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Teaching Your Child To Swim: Where To Start

Teaching your child to swim: Where to start

Teaching your child to swim can be a daunting prospect, but babies are naturally adaptable and the earlier you start, the easier it is likely to be. Babies won’t naturally fear the water, so it’s important that you teach them that whilst it can be dangerous, it is also fun.

Image of child underwater, tucked up in a ball shap holding his legs, floating face down. This is called Mushroom Floating. It's one place Where To Start Teaching Your Child To Swim
Mushroom Floating

As a parent, the safety of your child will doubtless be at the front of your mind, so it’s worth learning about child CPR on the off-chance that anything goes seriously wrong. If you’re lucky enough to have your own pool, make sure you keep it locked or tightly covered when it’s not in use to avoid your child becoming overconfident and going to ‘practise’ on their own without your supervision.

Teaching them to float is going to be an important part of the process, but you can use a lifejacket or other flotation device whilst you’re getting started. Avoid inflatable options as these could puncture, and instead stick to a foam float or lifejacket that straps under their legs so it can’t slip off. These will also help them get used to the natural horizontal position they’ll need, rather than rubber rings or armbands which would keep them vertical in the water.

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When can they start?

Assuming they have no other underlying health conditions, most babies should be fine to start spending time in the pool between 6 and 12 months. As they get older, probably from about 18 months depending on the child, you can start teaching them more about their flotation and propulsion.

The real key at this stage is to keep things light and cheerful so they associate spending time in the water with having fun. If a child has the association, they will learn faster as they won’t fear the water. You could try blowing bubbles in the water together to get them used to having their face partially submerged, or pretend to ‘catch the fishies’ to demonstrate a strong forward stroke.

A popular technique is to hold your child facing you on their front under their arms, and encourage them to kick like a motorboat as you walk backwards.

Swimming lessons?

If you don’t feel you have enough confidence or skills in the water yourself to independently pass on to your child, it’s worth considering lessons from a qualified instructor. A lot of instructors will run parent and baby sessions, which are great as your child will feel more at ease when being handled by their own parent rather than a stranger.

The advantage being, that there will be someone there checking that you’re doing everything right, who will also have the necessary first aid skills if anything does go wrong. As your child gets older and their confidence in their swimming increases, an instructor can also help them to perfect their stroke and build their strength.

When to stop using flotation devices or buoyancy aids?

Most children will naturally wean themselves off their flotation devices, but you’ll need to make sure you’re supervising them when they start to experiment with this. Much like taking the stabilisers off a bike, there may be some bumps along the way, but the sooner you can do it and let them off on their own, the stronger they will get and the faster they will learn.

Of course, every child develops at a different rate, so don’t push too much too soon, let your child lead the way a bit. Just because their cousin may have started swimming unaided at 4 years old doesn’t mean that they will too.

Learning to swim underwater

If you’ve spent time with your child learning about holding their breath and blowing bubbles to submerge their face, they should have few problems learning to swim underwater. Practise with a few face-down floating activities, like the ‘mushroom float’, and get them used to slowly releasing air through their nose under the water. You can even practise techniques for exhaling underwater at home in the bath to help build confidence before trying it out at the pool.

Final thoughts

Babies begin their lives submerged in fluid, so translating that into a pool environment is a fairly natural progression. During the first couple of years of their lives, children are hugely adaptable to the world around them and will mimic what they see from their parents.

If you can show them that the water is not to be feared, they will start from a place of confidence that will feed into their learning. As long as you are following safe procedures for teaching, they can concentrate on building the right muscles and learning about how to keep themselves afloat and propelled.

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