Great Ways To Teach Babies And Toddlers To Swim

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If you have children, you’re probably worried about their safety when it comes to water. Have a pool of your own, visit lakes or oceans, or just want your child to know how to swim? Swim safety for babies and toddlers is incredibly important.

Have you ever wondered about the best way to teach babies and toddlers to swim? We’ve put together a guide here to help get you started.

Start Early

When it comes to swim safety for babies and toddlers, you don’t want to put it off. Children become mobile quickly, well before they’re able to process danger or risk to their safety. Take extra precautions around water (including never leaving buckets, wading pools, or bathtubs accessible to children) and start lessons early.

In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement that swim lessons should begin for children between the ages of 1 and 4. Accidental drownings are the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 19. Sadly, it’s the leading cause of accidental death for children aged 1 to 4. Starting lessons early can help keep your child from becoming a statistic.

Have Realistic Expectations

You’re getting your child started with water safety. Don’t expect your little one to be training for the Olympics within three weeks of wading out into the water.

Your initial goals for your child should be the following:

  • Reduce fear of water: It may be counterintuitive, but you don’t want your child to be afraid of the water. This can cause lifelong stress and fear. If your child panics due to anxiety or fear while in the water, it can also further endanger them.
  • Exposure: Exposing your child to the good (and even perceived scary moments) helps them know what to expect when in the water. Knowing they can lose their footing or swallow water and still be okay can be a lifesaver in an emergency.
  • Teach critical skills and encourage muscle memoryTeaching your child how to hold their breath underwater and breathe when on the surface can help them stay safe if they’re in trouble while in the water. Teaching them to tread water safely and learn how to kick could save their life.
  • Build confidence: Plan on teaching your child that they can achieve their goals when in the water. This will help them push through any frightening or bad experiences, should they have them in the future.
  • Teach them rules and expectations: Your child shouldn’t be afraid of the water, but they should know the realities of water as well. Teach them that they should never be in the water alone, always have an adult with them, and never run near water. Be firm with your rules and set a good example by following the rules yourself.
  • Let them have fun: Feeling frustrated that you aren’t making progress? Enabling your child to have fun and teaching them to love water will keep them coming back. Even if you feel like you haven’t made “progress,” know that having a good time is important as well
swimming pool

Teaching Babies And Toddlers To Swim

This is one time where you may want to invest in a professional to help your child learn a new skill. It can help ease the pressure that comes along with teaching small children.

Professional swim instructors who work with small children know what to expect and how to navigate your child’s insecurities. They will also help relieve any anxiety you feel when in the water with an inexperienced swimmer.

If you are looking for a professional to teach your baby or toddler, reach out to your local public swimming pool or athletic club. They can usually direct you to certified instructors who are available to teach.

Interested in teaching your child yourself? Here are some ways to get the ball rolling if you’re the one tackling the teaching.

Find A Good Place To Learn

Maybe you live by the ocean or you have a pool. Or you could be considering using a public space to teach your child how to swim. There are many great places to do this, but here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind while deciding.

  • Choose a controlled environment: Learning how to swim is an important and difficult skill. You’ll want to remove any extra stressors, like water with its own movement. While a natural body of water with limited movement can work, you’ll want to stay away from strong waves. Most people choose a pool environment for teaching little ones how to swim.
  • Look for warm water: Children are susceptible to temperature changes. Young children are still learning to navigate controlling their own body temperature. In addition, they frequently have little fat to help keep them warm. Choose a pool with heated water to help keep them focused on learning.
  • Pay attention to safety protocols: You’ll want to make sure there are knowledgeable and certified lifeguards on duty. Make sure the swim area is also equipped with safety equipment, in case of an emergency.

Create A Teaching Plan

Before you leap into teaching your child how to swim, take some time to outline what you’ll be doing. Remember that rotating through different kinds of activities which practice the same skill will help keep your child interested and invested.

Planning your teaching schedule? Here are some ways to get started:

  • Water playtime: Water play is critical to introducing your little one to swimming. Begin in shallow water. If you don’t have access to a wading-entrance pool or shore, you can use a small toddler pool, or even the bathtub to begin with.
  • Songs: Songs your child’s already familiar with can be a great way to introduce important water skills, like breathing and blowing bubbles. It helps create a rhythm and the familiarity can ease any anxiety.
  • Games: Games can help make learning fun. It can also take the emphasis off learning. If you have a child who struggles to engage with learning to swim, games can be a great choice. Even throwing sinking rings in shallow water can help them get used to being wet and encourage them to embrace swimming.
  • Sneak in drills: The more drills you can get in, the better. Sit on the edge of the pool or on the shore and kick your legs. Stand shoulder deep and practice moving your arms properly. All of these skills will come in handy when teaching your baby or toddler how to swim.
  • Repetition and rotation: Have a stash of activities, songs, and games to choose from. This will help keep things fresh, but also leave your child feeling capable and successful.

In addition to learning basic water skills, you’ll want to teach your child water safety maneuvers. There are a number of maneuvers for swim safety for babies and toddlers, including the following:

toddler with kickboard
  • Belly float: Learning to float is crucial to teaching swimming. It’s a simple action that can be done for a prolonged period of time, if necessary. In this float, your little one will be face down in the water with arms and legs splayed like a starfish. Help your little one by offering support through the midsection and encourage them to get their face wet.
  • Back float: Like the belly float, the back float is a great skill that can be continued for extended periods of time. Help your child learn how to float by positioning them properly and staying near them. For both the back and the belly float, teaching your child how to hold their body to achieve the float will be critical.
  • Moving from belly to back float: You want your child to be prepared for whatever they might encounter. You can help extend the length of time they’ll be able to float by teaching them how to move from their front to back. Support their rotation while they bring their left arm and leg up and over.
  • Torpedo glide: This move involves minimal physical output with great distance return. It’s a good choice if your child is far out and needs to come back in. Arms should extend over the head so they slice easily through the water. This is best achieved with two adults—one to assist the departure and the second to help the child move toward.
  • Jumping skills: Jumping into the water can help alleviate any fear about falling in or becoming submerged. Begin by having your child sit on the edge of the pool and slide into waiting arms. Move further back and have your child work up to standing and jumping or diving into the water.
  • Treading water: This is another vital safety skill you’ll want to teach your little one. Treading water enables your child to stay above the water while expending minimal energy. Support your child under the arms while standing behind them and teaching them how to move the water with their arms and legs acting like small paddles.
  • Bounce and travel: As your child becomes more efficient with their safety skills, introduce this one—it’s especially important for open, deep swimming spaces, like lakes. Teach your child to hold their breath, sink to the bottom, and propel themselves back up at an angle to the surface. Here, they’ll get a fresh breath of air and do it again. Work on increasing speed and distance traveled for an efficient, low-energy way to get back to shore.
  • Exiting a pool: Your child shouldn’t be reliant on a ladder or stairs to leave a body of water. Spend plenty of time practicing exiting a pool from the side, to help ensure safety.

Equipment You Should Have On Hand

If you’re planning on teaching swim safety for babies and toddlers, there’s some basic equipment you should plan to have. These pieces will help make teaching easier while also keeping your little one safe:

floatation toys
  • Sinking toys can be tossed into the water and your child can retrieve them. Start slowly, by letting them bend their knees, or at the waist, to pick up their toys. They don’t need to get their face or head wet at first, but can work up to it.
  • Floating toys can be a great way to increase your child’s comfort zone. Remain with them and let the toy move further out into the water. They won’t realize they’re expanding their comfort area until it’s already happened.
  • Life vests can help keep your child afloat. Many even push kids onto their back so that their faces stay away from the water.
  • Kickboards serve as a minor flotation device while also offering your child the opportunity to learn proper swimming form. In addition to practicing kicks on a kickboard, they can be practiced on the edge of a pool or dock.
  • Water noodles always spell fun for children. They can also be a great way to help teach your child form and how to use their upper body while swimming.
  • Swim diapers: Depending on the age of your child, you’ll probably need to invest in swim diapers. Many public pools require swim diapers, even for children who are already potty trained, if they’re under a certain age. Swim diapers are available in disposable and reusable designs.

In addition, it can be a great idea to get a pool cleaner. While these aren’t exactly required for teaching your little one to swim, they do help create a sanitary, and nice looking environment. The Solar Breeze NX2 is a great option. It’s solar powered, long lasting, and very well liked.

Keeping Your Baby Or Toddler Safe While Learning To Swim

Swimming is an exciting skill to learn. Teaching swim safety for babies and toddlers when they’re young can lead to a life of great water-based experiences. While teaching your child to swim, you’ll want to make sure to stick to these basic safety rules:

  • Never leave your child unattended in water: Even if your child is an established swimmer, don’t plan on leaving them alone in the water. Accidents can happen quickly.
  • Make sure you know CPR and swim rescues: To successfully teach your child how to swim, you need to make sure you’re also up to date on best practices. Make sure you know appropriate resuscitation techniques for your child’s age, and consider taking a CPR course.

Teaching Swim Safety For Babies And Toddlers

Teaching basic swim skills and swim safety for babies and toddlers is a great choice. Your child will be prepared for any accidental (or intentional) water experiences. Investing in their ability now can help them have a life of exciting aquatic experiences and adventures—while keeping them safe.

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.