How to teach a toddler to swim is a question best answered in a series of steps. Teaching toddlers anything is often a mixed bag, with much depending on their level of engagement and interest. Swimming lessons, however, present an opportunity for both you and your toddler to get the best of every world.
First and foremost, it’s a good idea to start early—as in, very early. Everything else is a matter of patience and working your way in from the edge of the pool, to assisted swimming, to full swimming without your help. Never go faster than what they are willing to handle.
The younger the age the better. Despite what you might believe, infants are more natural swimmers than a toddler who never learned. That’s because it wasn’t too long ago when they were submersed in a very different kind of liquid.
How to Teach a Toddler to Swim
1. Make it fun
Some kids take right to it, and others are absolutely petrified. Either way, it’s important to make sure they are having a good time. An infant or a toddler will learn a lot faster if they aren’t terrified of the water.
In fact, it’s best to not even start the lessons the first few times. Let your child learn that being around water is fun and get plenty of joy out of the activity. If they associate the pool with having fun, they’ll be much more open to swimming lessons later.
2. Hanging out on the edge
For the most part, toddlers and even younger children are more than strong enough to keep themselves above water by keeping their hands on the concrete lip at the edge of the pool. You should also consider putting a vest on them, so they become used to venturing out into the water on their own.
Letting them explore on their own will instill confidence and lessen any of the fears and reservations they may have. Plus, it’s all part of the having fun thing. The more time they spend in the water, the more comfortable they’ll become.
3. Start with the ears
Kids are instinctively afraid to submerge their ears. They have some semblance of control over their nose, eyes, and mouth but their ears are a different matter. For whatever reason, ears are an instinctive no-no when it comes to going underwater.
Make it into a game. It doesn’t matter what you come up with but be sure to submerge one of your ears at a time to show them it’s okay. Then, you get them to do it. Pretend theirs a funny sound underwater or laugh whenever you submerge your ears.
Whatever you decide to come up with, you’ll never get them swimming on their own until the ears thing is taken care of.
4. Teach them to lean forward
This is the part most people are familiar with—holding your hand on their stomachs while they paddle forward in the water. They naturally want to try and tread water or lean back when they’re in the pool.
The best way to counteract this instinct is to spend plenty of time letting them swim around the pool with your support. This also establishes trust, which is another important factor throughout their lessons.
Remember, you are the sole being in the water they are wholly dependent on, and they know it.
5. Teach them to hold their breath
One of the best ways to do this is to blow air in their faces right before they go under. A child will hold their breath instinctively when you do this, so it prepares them for what’s about to come next.
Briefly dunk them and bring them up quickly. The point is to get them used to submerging their whole head. If everything has gone alright up to this point, they’ll be over the ear stuff and actively swimming forward (with your help).
The trust you establish before this point is critical. Your kids have to be confident you’re going to immediately pull them back up.
Tools to help teach them
Arm floaties and vests are great early on but they can’t stay that way forever, not if you want them to learn anything. At some point, graduate to pool noodles and woggles. Woggles are shorter than pool noodles, and you use two of them at the same time.
You hold one end of the woggles (one end in each hand), and your child holds the other ends. This allows them a degree of independence, which is something most kids crave to achieve, especially in front of you.
Pool noodles are a good idea too. Let them use them like a seahorse, sitting in the center to form a U-shape in the noodle. The natural floatation of the noodle will press them forward, teaching them to swim forward rather than in place.
Teaching a toddler or even an infant to swim is more important than you might consider at the time. The leading cause of death in 1 to 4-year-olds is drowning, and it’s also the second leading cause of death in kids ages 5 to 14.
Not only is it a fun and rewarding activity, but it will also arm them against accidents in the future. It’s not so scary if four-year-old slips and falls in the pool if they know how to swim to the side.
It’s also a fantastic bonding experience between parent and child or older sibling and younger sibling. Just be sure to take it nice and slow, while surrounding the entire event in laughter and good times. Do those things, and your toddler will swim laps around you in no time.
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