1. Provide regular reminders
Kids are hesitant to ask questions in front of their peers, especially if they’re already certified and feel like they’re supposed to know it all. In dive briefings, go over basic skills like hand signals, gear set-up and buddy procedures. Underwater, kids are easily distracted and often forget to watch their buddy, keep up with their group, and regularly look at their gauges. As such, keep kids close together underwater and always in buddy teams of no more than two so they can focus on just one other diver.
2. Make it a game
Kids are competitive. They want to out-do their parents and each other at every opportunity. For example, no one wants to be the first to run low on air at end of a dive, so stress good air consumption techniques and psych them up about cool neutral buoyancy skills like hanging upside down. Also, get them comfortable with reg recovery by blowing bubbles.
3. Watch ‘em like hawks
Check gauges often and personally. Kids are not always forthcoming when asked how much air they have left during a dive — they don’t want to be first to run low or be the cause for all to turn around. And many kids (boys) think the deeper they go, the cooler they are.
Never just ask a child underwater the amount of air left in his or her tank; take their gauge in hand and check it, along with their maximum depth reading. Also, check their gauges frequently as kids tend to use air faster. At the same time, make sure kids know how to read their own gauges, particularly computers. Have them demonstrate how to use whatever gauges they’ve got before they get in the water.
4. Find the right fit
Don’t let the wrong gear cost you a future diver. Make sure you have kids fitted in appropriate size gear, including tanks. As with adults, comfort is directly related to how much fun they’ll have and how safe they will be.
Many parents don’t want to spend money on gear for kids because they outgrow it quickly, but they need to appreciate that the right size fins, for example, are just as important as proper size shoes. Moreover, kids get cold and most need at least a rash guard or lightweight wetsuit for warmth, as well as protection. Many manufacturers, such as ScubaPro and Sub Gear, offer smaller gear and XS and XXS adult sizes for small teens.
5. What they really mean is…
Kids don’t always say what they mean. They will often come up with excuses to skip a dive rather than admit they are afraid or intimidated. Always notify parents of complaints, particularly illness, but sometimes a little one-on-one will reveal real reasons for hesitancy. Perhaps a particular skill has stressed the child, or they may not want to disappoint parents who are encouraging diving. Rather than risk losing a future diver, take time to figure out the root cause behind excuses and you may be able to offer an easy fix. And if a child just doesn’t want to dive, don’t try to make them, regardless of their parents’ desires.
6. Special needs
Talk to parents to learn if a child has a learning disability and adjust your teaching style accordingly. While significant disabilities need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, relatively common learning disabilities, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), need not be a barrier to learning. In fact, children with ADHD become extremely focused and motivated when something captures their attention, and they will rise to the occasion if tasked with being an “instructor assistant” who can help check gauges and make sure other kids are doing what they are supposed to.
If a child’s behaviour is disruptive then discuss the matter with his or her parents and discipline as required, but be careful not to embarrass a child in front of their peers as it can be a humiliating experience for them. At the same time, parents need to step back and let instructors teach without interfering. There’s no place for “helicopter parents” hovering poolside.
8. Check in
Follow up after the dive. Be sure to ask kids how their dive was. Compliment them on what they did well and offer tips to make their next dive better. Kids like keeping score, so be sure to log each dive with them immediately. It’s not likely they’ll do it later on their own. Stress why it’s important to log dives, show them your logbook and share how many logged dives you have. Telling dive stories is something they love, so share your experiences.
9. The Next Step
Keep the communication going after completing any kids program. Give them ideas about fun places to dive, and provide opportunities for them to dive with other kids. To that end, provide information about other courses they can take, especially as they get older. And keep in mind that instructors can develop their own specialty kids courses and submit them to PADI for review and approval.
10. Role modeling
Instructors who smoke, curse and act inappropriately — particularly male instructors prone to leering at young teenage girls — have no business teaching kids. As the frontline face of diving, instructors need to be an inspiration to children so be the kind of teacher students will remember for the rest of their lives in a positive way. After all, an instructor’s efforts with children today will have a lasting effect on the future of diving, so keep them safe, make them responsible and enjoy diving with them.