Children love to swim and can spend hours entertaining themselves in the pool. But before they take the plunge, make sure you know the proper steps and precautions needed before they take to the water like a fish.
There are mixed recommendations on when to introduce your child to swimming. Some say it is best to wait until your child is around 4 years old, while other programs offer baby and mommy classes to get your child accustomed to water before their first birthday. Some infant swimming instructors will teach you to hold your child on their backs and learn how to flip and float in case of emergency. Getting children used to splashing and having fun in the water first is important; especially when they are old enough to actually try swimming. To be safe, instructors advise to hold your child in your arms until 3 years old. Only you really know your child’s comfort zone and can make the judgment call on what their physical capabilities are and their ability to follow instructions.
Consider hiring a professional at your local recreation center, YMCA or high school pool. If you happen to own a swimming pool or have one in your community, you could also hire a professional to come to you. When enrolling in a swim class make sure the class size is small, keeping in mind the instructor to child ratio. Also, check that they keep the pool clean and a good temperature. Make sure your child is getting plenty of one on one interaction and is having fun!
Always supervise your child whether it is a wading pool, tub, large pool, lake or ocean (even if a lifeguard is on duty). Never assume another adult is watching your child, even during professional lessons you should be nearby. Make sure your child knows where the shallow and deep ends are and where the marks or lines are when the water gets deep. “No running by the pool” is a rule for a reason. Explain safety with your child and lay down ground rules before you head to the water. Keep a first aid kit and a phone nearby. Make sure your child isn’t swimming next to filters or wearing anything that can be caught or tugged on. Always make sure children are wearing life jackets when boating even if they are good swimmers. Plus, when they are learning you’ll get to enjoy them rep those adorable floaties!
Do It Yourself
Make sure if you are the person teaching your child to swim you know CPR. You can get certified for free at the American Red Cross or a local recreation center. Search online to see where you can quickly learn what you need. Once you feel secure being responsible for your little one in the water, you can try the following steps to help them learn to swim:
Start In The Shallow End
Start by holding your child on the steps. You must always be in “reach supervision” when a child is learning to swim. When you first begin, your child must be held! Have them sit and play and give them a water toy if it makes them more comfortable. Use a kickboard or floatie to grab onto to be safe and have fun!
Have your child take a deep breath and show them how to blow bubbles in the water. You want to make sure they can control their breathing and learn not to inhale water by pushing the air out. This is a great exercise to regulate their breath. It can be scary for a child to put their face in the water so show some enthusiasm when you teach them how.
Have a kickboard handy or have them grab onto a step and practice kicking in the water. Show how to kick fast with a straight leg in flutter motions to make an impact. Your child can inch from the steps to the side of the pool while holding onto the edge and practicing kicking as well. You can hold their belly up while you encourage them to kick. Next, try getting them to blow bubbles while kicking. Get them used to getting their face wet.
Holding Their Breath
Depending on your child’s age and skill level, after your little one masters blowing bubbles, get them to dip their face in and hold their breath by counting to three and have them take a deep breath and close their mouth tight. Show your child how to get water out of their eyes when they pop up. Make sure they are wiping their eyes rather than rubbing. Sinkable toys, like rings, are great for placing them on the steps in the shallow end. Have your little one grab the ring under water then move it down to the next step once they’ve mastered the first step and so forth. Make sure they are careful and don’t bump their heads on the step or any bars or railings.
Support your child with your arms and tell them to rest on your shoulder and pretend they are sleeping. Slowly move your child down so their head is resting on your arm while you support it and then ask them to move their arms out to the side. Show them how to lightly tread water while keeping their body up and buoyant.
This should be perfected before your child learns their freestyle stroke. Hold them about 5 feet from the steps with one arm on their chest and the other on their waist or legs. Have your child put their arms in front of them and tell them they are going to glide to the steps with their face underwater and grab onto the step and come up. Count to three and propel them forward. Once they get the hang of it, have them incorporate kicking with a straight leg with their flutter and have them grab onto the wall instead. Have them hold onto the wall and push themselves off gliding and kicking to you waist deep about 5 feet away. Swimming starts to become challenging and maybe scary at times, so be sure to keep it fun and comfortable for your child by reminding them of what a great job they’re doing!
Head Leading Balance
When they’re ready, freestyle swimming will introduce your child to balance. Before you add the stroke, make sure they can lead with their head in balance while they use their flutter kick. Their body should be perfectly horizontal in the water to reduce drag while saving their energy. Once they managed this floating on their back it will be time to try it on the side and then face in the water as they breath from side to side. When they are on their side have them extend one arm above their head. When they have their face in the water they must roll nose side to side keeping their head and body balanced when breathing and kicking.
Incorporate The Arms
Once they can breathe and balance face and head down, you can then teach front arm crawl movements making sure your child is cupping their hands and pushing water when their arms comes back underneath helping to propel them forward. Show them standing how their arms should feel and what motion to do when they lay flat and balance in the water. Practice the stroke in parts teaching them to breathe then stroke one and stroke two and so forth. Focus on keeping their fingers together and cupping the water instead of slapping it around. Pretty soon you’ll have a fast little fish on your hands and you can work on building their swimming repertoire, teaching them the breaststroke, butterfly stroke and backstroke!