How to Teach Swim Lessons to Toddlers

Before you write a check for swim lessons, be aware that you might be creating a monster: once your toddler learns to swim, coaxing his splash-happy self out of the water will be a challenge. Swim lessons will help him learn to love the water and do it safely, and you can breathe a little bit easier around the pool once he’s started to learn some basic skills.

Why Swim Lessons

Your tot still struggles to drink without spilling, so he’s years away from being a champion swimmer. Swim lessons won’t help a toddler learn the finer points of the backstroke, but they’ll help him get his feet wet (literally) and learn not to fear the water. This may sound counter intuitive; after all, you don’t want him too comfortable around safety hazards. The fact is, a curious little one might find his way into water whether you want him to or not, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, swim lessons can keep him safe.

Based on several studies, which discovered that children between 1 and 4 years old were less likely to drown if they’d had swim instruction, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most children under 4 learn to swim.

Signing Him Up

Your little guy’s not ready to jump into the deep end, but as long as he’s not terrified of water and can follow simple directions, he’s probably ready to try swim lessons. At such a young age, he needs plenty of one-on-one help, so parent-and-child lessons are his best bet. The smaller the class, the better; if you live in a warm climate, team up with a few friends and their toddlers, and hire an instructor to come teach your kiddos in someone’s backyard pool. Your local community center or YMCA probably offers lessons, too.

Verify that your instructor has experience working with toddlers and swim instructor certification from the American Red Cross or YMCA, as well as CPR training. If you’re concerned whether your tot is ready for lessons, check with his pediatrician first.

What to Expect

Start looking for a bathing suit for yourself (that you don’t absolutely hate), because when toddlers are learning to swim, they need a parent nearby. You might need to help your tot adjust to the water, by holding him and slowly starting to get him wet. For the first several lessons, your instructor will probably focus on basic skills like going underwater and blowing bubbles.

It might take weeks before the little guy starts to kick and work on arm movements, or he be part fish and be ready to keep himself afloat without your help during the second class. Be prepared for the fact that a normally brave and curious toddler might cling to you like a starfish every time he gets near water. If so, he’ll probably become more confident and less afraid within a few lessons, but if he seems terrified of the water, hold off on swim lessons for now.

Water Safety

So he can blow a mean bubble and paddle like a champ, but his swim experience shouldn’t affect your diligence around the water at all. Don’t let his swim lessons make you complacent when he’s in the pool: always watch him like a hawk whenever he’s around water. Keep all pools fenced and locked, never leave him alone in the tub and continue to teach him that he must walk when he’s near a pool and that he is never allowed to go into the water without you or another safe adult around.

Another issue that concerns safety and hygiene: if the little guy is still working on that whole potty training thing, change him into a swim diaper right before he climbs into the water, and check for surprises every time he climbs out.

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