How to Teach Your Baby to Swim
Knowing how to teach your baby to swim can instil confidence in the water from a young age but also potentially safe your child’s life should they fall in. This ‘how to’ article deals with the actual process of teaching and the learning steps involved, not just getting your child comfortable in the water.
1. Help them to recognise the importance of how to get into the water safely. This is an important exercise as it is not only laying the foundation for diving later on, but you are also teaching your baby how to safely enter the pool. First teach your child that you always go into the water before them. They’re never too young to understand this! Once you are ready, give your child permission – “Ok! 1,2,3, jump!” or similar, but always use the same phrase. In the beginning you will need to have your child hold your fingers with their hands and very gently pull your child in. If your child is accustomed to going underwater, let them jump in and go under and then pull your child up to the surface or let your child kick and swim up to the surface. If your child is less comfortably, gradually allow them to jump in deeper and deeper- don’t kill confidence.
2- Play together; learning to swim should be fun. Blowing bubbles in the water is a great way to teach your baby to hold his breath if they’re not yet accustomed to it. It will teach them to blow out, not breath in, while their mouth is underwater, and will also help them to get comfortable with their face in the water. Babies love to mimic so this is always a lot of fun! Bobbing up and down is another way to slowly introduce your child to holding their breath. Think of a phrase to use, such as “1,2,3, under!” that means they are about to go under the water, and use it every time. At first just bob your child up and down only to chin deep. Keep it fun and joyous! Gradually, over the course of time, get deeper and deeper, first getting just their mouth a little wet with each bob, then submerging their entire mouth, then up past the nose, finally you will get to where their entire face and then entire body goes under with each bob.
3- Once your baby is comfortable holding their breath underwater, you can begin to teach them the swimming motions underwater. Grasp their sides and hold your baby horizontally in the water. Then give them the phrase (“1,2,3, under!”) and put them underwater while moving them through the water. Encourage them to kick, kick, kick! This will teach them the forward motions of swimming. As your child gets used to this, briefly let them go.
4. When your baby is comfortable and confident underwater, you can loosen the reigns a little. Start by doing the bobbing up and down exercise or the passing underwater exercise, but briefly let go of your child whilst he/she is underwater. This may startle your child at first to feel their own weight floating in the water without your hands supporting them! Just begin slowly and gradually, as with everything. Now have your child face you and then let go encouraging them to swim towards you. If your child doesn’t fully swim to you, pull him/her towards you and then lift him/her out of the water. Reinforce with praise.
5. Have them learn to float on their back. By being able to float on their backs, babies can learn to swim, flip over to catch a breath (and/or rest), swim some more, and then catch another breath and continue in this pattern. Most babies will be able to float on their backs long before they are able to lift their heads out of the water. This exercise is simple – put your baby on it back and help him/her float! At first hold your baby completely so they feel secure, but gradually decrease the amount of support you give your child until eventually he/she will hopefully be able to float on their own. If baby is uncomfortable in this position at first, you might need to get creative – for instance, lay your baby’s head on your shoulder (at water level) and be playful – have your child kick their feet and tickle their tummy! They will gradually become used to the horizontal position. For safety reasons (your child accidentally falling into the pool without supervision, it’s a good idea to teach your baby how to get on their backs from a different position. Flip them gently from their stomach to their back, then back onto their stomach, etc.
6. Teach them how to climb out of a pool. Have baby grab the edge of the pool and let them hang on with as little support from you as possible. Let them hang there for a little while. The goal will be to be able to swim to the edge and hang on by him or herself, and then to eventually be able to hang on and climb out of the pool. After he/she has held onto the edge for a little while, tell him/her to climb out. Give them a little push or let them push off of your hands as needed. Try to let him/her do as much as possible by him or herself.
Strongly emphasize from day one that your baby may never enter the pool without you first giving the signal and being right there. Be consistent and they will learn.
Always supervise your baby. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer they are – they need adult supervision at all times. Do not become complacent thinking that your baby can save themselves if they fell in.
Try to swim at least three days a week to achieve the best result. Swimming every day is ideal!
Read your baby’s cues – introduce steps gradually and don’t continue if your baby isn’t enjoying himself!
Walking backwards before you let him go under creates a current and will make it easier for baby to swim to you!