Teaching your toddler the basics of swimming will make him more confident in the water and help him to stay safe if he accidentally falls into the pool. Don’t think for a minute that it’s too early to give your tot swim lessons — drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death for children younger than the age of 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the main objective is serious, swimming lessons are exciting and fun for kids — be prepared, however, to be involved in some major splash warfare.
Before you start swimming lessons, become familiar with child CPR. Take a class at the Red Cross office or your local hospital so you’ll know what to do in the event of an accidental drowning. Your toddler should wear a comfortable, fitted swimsuit that won’t drag in the water. Slather him with sunscreen SPF 15 or higher if you plan to swim outdoors. Give him a snack one hour before you get in the pool to keep his energy levels up. Have a dry towel and clothes next to the pool in case your child gets cold. Limit lessons to 15 minutes or less. Swimming takes a tremendous amount of energy — particularly for a little person.
One of the most important skills to teach your child is proper breathing. You want your toddler to be relaxed in the pool. If he panics, he may start inhaling water, which expedites drowning. Sit on a step with your child in your lap. Instruct him to take a deep breath in and hold it for a few seconds, then slowly exhale. Gradually increase the time he holds his breath. As your toddler gets more comfortable, encourage him to put his face in the water while he holds his breath. If the child is hesitant, show him how he can blow bubbles under water.
Play some simple games to help your toddler acclimate to the water. Many tots are hesitant about putting their heads under water. Help your toddler overcome his fear by dropping a toy in the pool. Encourage him to retrieve the toy and help him to wipe the water from his eyes when he comes back up. Another game you might play is the “wall crawl.” Show your child how to move hand-over-hand along the wall. The walls and stairs are safe places your toddler can hold onto if he gets scared.
It will be a while before your toddler is old enough to swim on his own, but it’s important to get him familiar with the basics. Start with the back float. Squat in the water so that he can rest his head on your shoulder. Instruct your toddler to take a deep breath in so that his belly pushes up. When he feels confident in this position, move him fully into the water and support his lower back with your arm. Encourage him to tilt his head back and point his toes.
Most toddlers are really good at kicking and splashing Mom or Dad with water. Your tot will probably need help focusing on technique, however. He may instinctively draw his legs to his chest and kick froggy style. Show him how to point his toes and scissor kick. Start at the wall, then graduate to a fun floatation device like a kick board or water noodle. Always stay right next to him in the water and don’t try to teach him too many lessons at once. Toddler’s have very limited attention spans. If you teach kicking one day, save arm motions for another lesson.