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How to Teach a Child to Swim

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Marissa is the writer of ThePracticalMommy and the blog Mommy Knows What's Best. She is a stay-at-home mom to four and was a teacher.

Teaching a Child to Swim

Swimming tip: Always be near a child who is using a flotation device!

Swimming tip: Always be near a child who is using a flotation device!

Teach Your Child to Swim

Teaching kids to swim can be a fun yet daunting task for parents. There is much to consider when teaching a child to swim: age of the child, safety, and what aspect of swimming to teach first.

Even if you are not a huge fan of being in the water, you can successfully teach your child to swim and how to enjoy swimming safely. Below are tips of how to teach your child to swim, along with safety tips.

Pool Safety for Kids

First, you should establish pool safety rules with your kids. Too many children die each year from accidental drowning, and many of the deaths occur in pools at home. Having rules can help keep your kids safe any time they are near a pool.

Here are some rules kids to follow when they are near or in a pool:

  • Never go near the pool unless an adult is with you.
  • No running around the pool (in-ground pools).
  • No roughhousing, or pushing near or in the pool.
  • No diving into the shallow end of the pool.

They are simple rules, but they will help keep your child safe. If you think your child is too young to understand those rules, set a good example by modeling the rules and following them.

Sun Protection While Swimming

  • Facts About Sun Safety
    Keep your family safe in the sun by reading these sun safety facts and following the sun protection tips.

Backyard Swimming Pools

Even if you have a small pool like this in your backyard, you need to practice pool safety. Stay near your children and pay attention!

Even if you have a small pool like this in your backyard, you need to practice pool safety. Stay near your children and pay attention!

Swimming Safety

Parents need to be aware of their pool surroundings and their kids while in the pool. Here are a few rules for parents to follow when their children are old enough to swim:

  1. Make sure your pool has a fence and a locked gate surrounding it.
  2. Stay near your children, within arms reach, especially when they are first starting out.
  3. Pay attention at all times! No mobile devices or reading materials when young children are swimming.
  4. Don't rely on flotation devices. Children can slip through or slip out and drown.
  5. Make sure drain covers on the bottoms of pools, especially at public pools, are up to codes. Accidental drownings and other accidents have occurred due to drain covers that have since been recalled.
  6. Keep children hydrated. Even though they are surrounded by water, it is still possible for them to become dehydrated, which can cause cramps, fainting, etc.

Teaching a Child to Swim

Swimming Safety : Teaching Kids to Return to the Side of the Pool

How to Teach Babies and Toddlers to Swim

How you teach your child to swim depends on his or her age. Here is a guide of what you should teach kids as they age.

Newborn-5 months: It is not recommended to take a newborn baby in any body of water, especially one used by the public. Since babies' immune systems are not yet fully developed, they are susceptible to bacteria in water, like E. coli, that may cause diarrhea, which can be deadly for babies. Plus, newborns are unable to regulate body temperature, which may be dangerous. For now, play with baby in the bathtub to get used to being in water.

Ages 6 months-1 Year: At this stage, it's all about water readiness and getting used to being in water. At this age, children don't fully comprehend what it means to 'swim'. Many baby swimming classes will claim that babies inherently know how to swim, but it's mostly instinct, if and when it kicks in.

To get babies used to being in water, you can start in the bathtub! Make bath time fun for baby. Show him/her how water trickles from your hands or how you can splash. Pour a little water over his/her head as you wash hair or gently wet his/her face with water. Bath time is a great transition for pool time!

The first time you bring the baby to a pool, remember that it may be a bit scarier than the bath because of the size of the pool and the amount of water. It's a whole new experience for the baby! Keep baby calm and take things slowly. If there is another adult with you, have them hold the baby while you get into the pool first. Show the baby how you like being in the water, and then ask the baby to come in.

At first, you can hold the baby against your chest, just above the water. Dipping the baby right into the water can be a shock to the system, so avoid doing that. Let the baby get used to the water on feet, and then slowly keep lowering more of the baby in the water. Show the baby how you can splash the water and kick your legs. Walk around the pool with the baby, pretending you're a boat while making boat sounds. Do anything you can think of that would keep the baby calm and help the baby enjoy being in the water.

Ages 2-3 years: Now that your toddler has more vocabulary to work with and more control of his/her body, it's time to encourage moving arms and legs as if actually swimming.

Before teaching how to glide or other swimming techniques, it would be beneficial to teach your child how to return to the side of the pool should he/she fall into the pool by accident. From a sitting position, encourage your child to slowly fall in as you hold his/her hands. Once in the water, use your fingers to gently guide them back to the side. Tell them to hold onto the side as best they can. You can also do this as your child jumps into the pool. Follow the same steps to return to the side of the pool and hold on. (See video for demonstration.)

There are a few swimming techniques to teach kids at this age: submerging, gliding, floating and jumping in. Submerging is perhaps the scariest lesson for kids (and for many parents), but it is a necessary skill to have while swimming. To encourage a child to submerge their face in water, start with simply wetting their face with water. Next, move on to blowing bubbles, which teaches kids how to expel water from their mouths and keep water from going into their noses. Then, while holding on to the side of the pool, have your child slowly dip their face in the water while blowing air out. (See video for demonstration.)

For gliding, it's important to teach your child how to have a streamlined body position. Once that is established, have your child hold onto the edge of the pool with one hand and push off of the side of the pool with both feet, moving into the streamlined position.

After gliding, you can teach your child to move their arms in a crawling motion and to kick their feet so that they flutter. If they're not happy about their face in the water, you can teach them the dog paddle, which keeps their head above the water.

Floating is more of a tough thing to teach since your child needs to stay calm and still while holding this position. To practice floating on the back, you can keep your arms loosely under your child as he/she lays on the back with arms extended to the side and legs together and still.

The second most scary lesson to learn while swimming may be jumping into the pool. Start with your child sitting on the edge of the pool and leaning in. Remember to have them return to the edge to practice that important skill. From there, your child can learn to stand with their toes at the edge of the pool and jumping in. Make sure to be close in case they panic after getting into the water. Again, remind them to return to the side after jumping into the pool.

Note: If you have a diving board in your pool, make sure it follows the codes and regulations for pools. Diving boards need to be over water that is at least 8-8.5 feet deep.

Swim Diapers for Babies

Body Temperature for a Baby

Until the age of six months, babies are not able to regulate their body temperature. They lose heat much quicker than an older child or an adult. This is important to remember when you take your baby in any body of water.

If your baby is shivering while swimming, it's important to take the baby out of the pool before hypothermia (the loss of too much body heat) sets in.

On the other hand, if the water is too warm, that can be bad for your baby too. Heated pools and hot tubs may have water that is way too warm for your baby and cause hyperthermia (too much body heat).

An ideal water temperature for babies would be around 85° Fahrenheit.

How to Teach Kids to Swim : Treading Water

Swim Lesson : Proper Body Positing for Kids

Teaching Kids to Swim: Learning to Go Underwater

Online Swimming Lessons

Floating on the Back and the Backstroke

How to Teach Preschoolers and School Aged Kids to Swim

At the age of four, children are more and more capable of learning how to actually swim. Here's how to do it based on age.

Ages 4-5 Years: At this stage of life, kids should be able to learn and apply swimming skills on their own. This is the best time to go to swimming lessons, but the basics can still be taught at home.

Kids at this age can learn how to do these things on their own: float on their backs, glide and move into a swim stroke, submerge completely underwater, and jumping in. The key is that they need to feel like they can complete these tasks by themselves, with you nearby of course.

Ages 6+ Years: If your child has been swimming for a few years now, he/she should be ready for mastery of swimming skills and techniques. Skills and strokes that can be learned and mastered are: swimming underwater, diving, freestyle stroke, breast stroke, backstroke, and butterfly stroke.

Keep Children Safe on a Boat

Going boating? Make sure to bring the life jackets, even if your child can swim!

Life Jacket for Children

Swimming Safety in a River, Pond, Lake, or Ocean

Swimming in a body of water other than a pool can be a very different experience depending on currents, depth, and water temperature.

River: If you're going to go swimming with your family in a river, it's best to make sure the current isn't too strong and that you're not near any rapids. Also, be aware that rivers can get pretty deep and steer clear of floating objects. Weeds tend to grow long and can easily entangle swimmers. Walk on rocks as they can be slippery and cause you to fall.

Ponds or Lakes: Ponds and lakes are stationary bodies of water, but you still need to be very cautious. Since they are stationary, there's more concern for bacteria in the water. Also, they may be very deep and have submerged objects that are hard to see through murky, muddy water. If possible, swim at a public beach with a lifeguard.

Ocean: If you are going to swim in the ocean, especially with small children, be sure to find a place near a trained lifeguard. Be aware of rough surf, drop-offs, and the under current, which can be incredibly strong. Waves can easily crash down hard on kids, and sometimes sweep them from where they are standing. Tell your kids that if they are taken by a wave or rip current to swim at a parallel to the shore until they feel like they are out of the current. Swimming against the current will quickly tire them out. If they need help or are swept away from you, instruct them to raise their arm in the air as high as they can and to wave so the lifeguard can spot them easily.

Swimming FAQ

  • I am afraid of the water. How can I teach my child to swim? This is a good question. If you are fearful of water, it is important not to show your child that fear. Perhaps it would be a good idea for your to take swim lessons with your child so that you become more confident in the water. When you decide to swim at home with your child, make sure there is another adult there to help you if a problem should arise.
  • I never learned how to swim. Is it too late to start? It's never to late to start! You can follow the techniques used here to teach a child to swim or you can take lessons with your child.
  • Swim lessons can be expensive, especially if they are private lessons. Where can I take my child for swimming lessons without breaking the bank? There are many clubs or organizations, like the YMCA, that offer swim lessons at a price much less than private lessons. There are many YMCAs nationwide offering all levels of swim lessons.
  • Is swimming beneficial to kids? Yes! Swimming is an excellent exercise for any age level. It requires use of all major muscle groups in the body. Plus, it's fun!
  • Should I have any other training before I teach my child to swim? It would be beneficial to take CPR classes, just in case of emergency. It may not hurt to take some lifeguarding courses as well to learn some saving techniques, but it isn't necessary.

©ThePracticalMommy

YMCAs Offer Affordable Swim Lessons Nationwide!

Comments

Nicole Dziedzic on July 07, 2015:

Awesome article now that it is summer time, both are kids got signed up for swimming classes to learn how to swim, and they now can both swim very well. Very helpful information here!

Emily M. on August 26, 2014:

Thank you so much for this informational article!

The link to "dive reflex", wow. I'm glad I read that to. I was definitely misinformed.

Very helpful! Thank you!

Marissa (author) from United States on May 17, 2014:

Lacey, I'm glad you found this useful. Have fun!

Lacey on May 17, 2014:

Thank you for such a wonderful article, my daughter is 3 and I am really trying to get her use to the water and practice some basic swimming techniques, like kicking, at this time!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 11, 2013:

ComfortB, I'm glad this hub was useful to you! It can be difficult to teach kids to swim when you're not sure yourself, but if you show confidence, they'll pick up on that and try harder themselves. Good luck and have fun swimming!

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on June 11, 2013:

Hello practicalmommy! I want my kids to learn to swim better that they do now. They've pretty much self-taught, but my 7 yr. old doesn't know how.

You've written a very good hub here on the subject. If I can just get over my fear of sticking my head under water, maybe I'll be better for it. There's a YMCA in a little city, don't think they have a swimming pool though. I'll check it out. Hopefully they can help.

Thanks for a great hub. Voted up and useful.

Marissa (author) from United States on September 17, 2012:

TeachableMoments, I'm glad you like my suggestions and focus on safety. Best of luck teaching your daughter to swim! :)

TeachableMoments from California on September 16, 2012:

Thank you for such a great hub! My daughter loves and fears the water. We do a lot of swimming in the family pool during the summer, but she still refuses to take professional swimming lessons. We try to teach her basic skills by playing games and just having fun in the water, but her fear of the water holds her back. Your suggestions will help a lot. I really appreciate that you focused on safety throughout your hub. Voted up!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 03, 2012:

Tonipet, thanks for stopping by again!

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on June 03, 2012:

Thank you Marissa. I've learned many things from you. Now I know very much that at age 6-months, a child can begin enjoying the water... but I shouldn't be expecting they can start to learn swimming, lol. Thank you again and more from you.

Marissa (author) from United States on June 02, 2012:

teaches12345, thank you very much for your comment and the vote up! :)

Dianna Mendez on June 02, 2012:

Our kids were fortunate to learn swimming safety early in their toddler years. Your advice on keeping infants out of the water is important and doing this will prevent sickness. Your listing swim lesson advice by age is a great idea. Thanks for sharing this with parents. Voted up.

Marissa (author) from United States on June 02, 2012:

randomcreative, thank you so much! :D I'm glad you find it to be helpful.

Marissa (author) from United States on June 02, 2012:

LikaMarie, that's great that your son is so comfortable in the water! You're right: swimming is never totally safe, but knowing the water basics does help. :) Thanks for reading!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 02, 2012:

Tonipet, I wouldn't say 6-month olds can 'swim', but they can at least get used to the water. :) Thank you for reading and commenting!

littleguides on June 02, 2012:

Great articles. I take my two daughters every weekend to a swimming lesson with a teacher. They are now swimming, even better that me. :)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 01, 2012:

Awesome resource, Marissa! This will be helpful to so many parents. Very well designed hub.

LikaMarie on June 01, 2012:

Great hub. My son always loved water. Once he took his real bath after his "belly button" fell off, he couldn't get enough water. By the time he was 2, anything to do with water, whether a small stream, river, puddle, lake, water spout, small pools, big pools, lakes, you name it, he gravitated toward it.

So, we started him with swimming lessons. They can be expensive, so, when he was 5, we kept visiting big swimming pools, and I'd have him swim to me, and of course I was always IN the pool with him. We even did laps together with him using floaties, and would try the strokes on the shallow end.

He went back to swimming again, and well, it was nice because now, at 12, of course it's never totally safe, but, I don't have to worry nearly as much because he can do all his water basics.

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on June 01, 2012:

I'm impressed even a 6-month old can begin to swim. I like that tips about how to help kids outgrow the fear of submerging as its usually the case. Another is on how to expel water from their mouths. See I'm not a swimmer myself, haha. Thanks for the tips Marissa, all useful, up and interesting. Takecare!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 01, 2012:

angela_michelle, I think it's a good idea to make kids wear life jackets in rivers. You never can be too safe! Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Angela Michelle Schultz from United States on June 01, 2012:

My daughter is a competitive swimmer, and can swim better than either me or my husband, yet in rivers, we still make her wear a life jacket. I don't think it's a good idea to allow your child to swim in a river without one. Great informative hub by the way!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 01, 2012:

peeples, have fun teaching your 16 month old! I'll also be teaching my daughter, who is 17 months old, but it will be easier this time around since I have been teaching my son for the past four years. :)

Knowing the basics definitely does add to safety! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peeples from South Carolina on June 01, 2012:

Great hub. We are currently teaching our 16 mth old to swim. She loves the pool! Knowing even the basics adds to safety!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 01, 2012:

GoodLady, I'm glad you liked it! Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on June 01, 2012:

algarveview, I agree: kids should learn how to swim at an early age. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on June 01, 2012:

Thanks so much. I'm sending this to my youngest son and wife who have a 2 year old. It's priceless information and it looks so pretty too!

Joana e Bruno from Algarve, Portugal on June 01, 2012:

Hello, PracticalMommy, great hub on an extremelly important subject. I think your advices are very good and swimming is something we should teach our children as soon as possible. Obviously at an early age it's more about teaching them how to behave in water and to feel confortable, than actually swimming, but we can build from there. My twins started swimming lessons a year ago (we go with them) and right now the difference is enormous, what they can do, their behaviour, I think it's really important. Well done! Voted up, interesting and useful and sharing! Have a great day!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 01, 2012:

Billy, I could only imagine what your story is, but I bet it's funny! I was 'taught' how to swim by my then-teenaged uncles who thought it would be fun to throw me in the pool when I was three (NOT RECOMMENDED!). Let's just say I'm a very strong swimmer now! ;) Thanks for reading!

Marissa (author) from United States on June 01, 2012:

twinstimes2, thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 01, 2012:

LOL...I have a great story about me learning to swim but much too long to share here. Great suggestions and points that you make; wish my parents had followed them. :)

Karen Lackey from Ohio on June 01, 2012:

Great job, Practicalmommy! Great information throughout and well laid out! Up and Useful!

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