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How to Teach Your Toddler to Swim and Ease Fears

Katlyn Joy |13, August 2012


Learning to swim is a valuable and fun skill for children to learn, as well as a good idea for safety as well as fitness. Teaching a toddler may be a bit daunting, but if you take into account a child's emotional, physical, and intellectual skills as well as the attention level, it won't be too difficult.

Preparing for Pool

- Choose a bathing suit with the child to build a sense of excitement as well as helping the child feel a sense of ownership about the lessons.

- Talk to your child about learning to swim and answer questions, and fears if any come up.

- Get their feet wet with swim basics at a familiar place; their bathtub. Practice blowing bubbles, putting face to water and other such movements.

- Choose a pool that is simple for your toddler to enter and emerge from, preferably one with steps or a gradual entry. Also make certain the water is not uncomfortably cold for your little one.

Safety Issues

- Discuss with your child the rules of the pool. No running. No jumping in. No entering the pool area without you.

- Determine whether or not to use swim floatation devices with your toddler. Some instructors prefer to use noodles, swim wings, or other such helpers while others think they provide a false sense of security in new swimmers.

- Never push a child beyond their fear. A hyperventilating toddler will not learn anything but more fear. Always let a child show you where they are comfortable going.

Easing Into Swimming

- Start by getting into the water, just a little bit, alongside your child. Start by entering at the steps and then sitting and playing together with toys or by splashing gently.

- Sit together at the pool's side and kick your feet in the water seeing how can kick the faster or splash the biggest.

- Put small floating toys in the water and encourage your child to blow them along.

- Dip your face into the water, seeing if you can poke your nose into the water and see if your child wants to copy you.

- Teach your child to hold his breath and put his face in the water.

- Demonstrate how to blow bubbles in the water. Hopefully you had the chance to practice in the "little pool" at home, or your bathtub.

Starting Skills

1. Kicking. Teach your child to keep the legs mostly straight and kick from the hip. You can practice this from the side, holding to the edge of the pool or putting hands on the higher step of the pool. Encourage your toddler to kick for a set amount of time or count the kicks to add a game type element.

2. Gliding. Hold your child under the armpits and face one another and gently pull your child through the water, encouraging the toddler to relax.

3. Push off from the edge, forwards and backwards. Using the edge of the pool teach your child to push off with feet and see how far the glide goes.

4. Holding onto a swim noodle, pull your child while he or she kicks the legs.

5. Teach your child how to stroke arms through the water, encouraging her to keep fingers together like a spoon, not a fork. Demonstrate how to do it at first.

6. Have some sinking toys to encourage your child to go underwater to retrieve. For extra incentive, make the toys new prizes to claim.

7. Kick along with a kickboard in shallow water without grown up hands on, just close by.

8. Teach your child to float both with face in water, and on the back. This will take time and trust so don't push too fast.

9. Make sure your child can jump safely into water. Teach your child not to do flips or somersaults to avoid cracking the head on the pool's edge.

10. Also, be certain your child can easily get out of the pool and safely do so.

For the Timid

Don't ever violate your child's trust by doing something frightening. Never throw a child into water or dunk a child. Always explain clearly what you are about to do and get a child's OK before beginning. This will do much to relax a fearful child. Always give a count down before beginning a new skill. When your child resists, say something like "OK, I see you aren't ready quite yet to go underwater. We will get to that later when you feel ready. Would you like to do some more leg kicks now or blow bubbles?"

Give your child options and praise to build confidence. Have another adult available at times to take photos or videos to show your child later.

If all approaches are met with screams or tears, let the lessons go for awhile before trying again. You want a happy secure child in the water for a lifetime, so take as much time as your child seems to need.

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