Editor’s Note: This is the first post in our three-part series focused on teaching children to swim with the SwimWays Swim Steps program. The steps include Swim Step 1: Water Introduction, Swim Step 2: Water Exploration, and Swim Step 3: Swim Training. Swim along with us and teach your child the skills of a lifetime!
Learning to swim is a skill we take very seriously here at Swimways. Not only is swimming a great way to stay healthy and lower the risk of childhood drowning*, it can lead to a lifetime love of water and fun times in the pool with friends and family!
But where do you start when it comes to introducing your littlest member of the family to the water for the first time? Read along with us for some helpful step-by-step tips.
1. Water Safety First
Before you head to the pool, make sure you are fully aware of water safety practices. Review the American Red Cross water safety checklist and visit our resources page on TeachMeToSwim.com. Arming yourself with knowledge and a plan will help you to relax and feel more confident. If you are one of the many adults that did not learn to swim, sign yourself up for swim lessons before you get in the pool with your child. There are swim lessons courses available just for adults, and it’s never too late to learn.
2. Attitude is Everything
These first few experiences in the pool are very important, so make them a fun and secure experience for your baby… and for you. Make sure your child is relaxed and enjoying the process, and that they want to be in the water. Babies pick up on their parent’s feelings quickly, so the best way to set the tone is for YOU to be relaxed and confident first.
3. Tools of the Trade
To assist you with the water introduction experience, we recommend purchasing a secure baby float with a wide, stable base and a low center of gravity, such as one of our Baby Spring Floats. Make sure the float is fully inflated before use.
Note: Choosing to use a swim aid, such as a baby float or swim vest, during the learn to swim process is a personal decision. Here’s what water safety expert, Mario Vittone, has to say on the subject.
4. Use the Buddy System
For your baby’s very first time in the pool, have another family member or friend with you for assistance – someone your baby knows well and trusts (just make sure it’s someone who can stay relaxed and cool). If you have older children, they may want to help, but for this first time in the water, we recommend they not participate. Wait until your baby is comfortable being in the pool with you and one or two other people first.
5. Create a Comfortable Environment
Make sure the pool is at a comfortable bath water temperature, clean and removed of debris and obstacles, and that there aren’t a lot of other people around creating noise and waves in the water. Be mindful of how long you are in the water. Babies are not as good at regulating body temperature as adults are, so keep your pool sessions short.
6. Start Slow
Before you place your baby in the float for the first time, hold them close to you and splash a little water on their toes. If your baby is liking this water-on-the-toes experience, bob up and down a few times. Slowly sway their legs in the water so they can feel the sensation of water flowing around their legs. “This sure is different than the bathtub!” Use soothing sounds to reassure them and try singing their favorite song. These familiar sounds will help your child stay calm as they discover this watery new world.
7. Introduce the Baby Float and Toys
Bring the baby float closer to you and have your partner hold the float steady while you put the baby into the float. If your baby resists getting into the float, hold them close to you again. After a few minutes, try the baby float again. It’s helpful to have some toys on hand to engage your baby as you place them into the float. One of our more popular baby floats, the Baby Spring Float Activity Center, includes baby toys.
If your baby is happy to be in the float, experiment with gently splashing water in the mesh area of the baby float, or tap the water with your fingers so they can see what happens. Play with some toys and make it fun.
If your baby just doesn’t want to be in the float at all after an attempt or two, try it out another time – do not force them into the float or into the water if they do not want to be there. Remember, this water introduction process is about establishing confidence and trust in you and having a pleasant first experience in the water.
Which brings us to one of the most important things we can say about the learn to swim process…
8. Go the Distance, Don’t Worry About Winning the Race
It’s normal to be a bit nervous, however, if your child is afraid of being in the water at any point during the learn to swim process, don’t force your child to stay in the water.
Each child is different, and they will learn to swim at their own pace. It’s better to have a slow and steady water introduction experience so that your child can build confidence in the water gradually. You want them to love the water and swimming, not to be afraid of the water or see swim lessons as a chore.
9. Love (or Fear) of Water is a Learned Behavior
Some of us were thrown into the pool to “sink or swim” in our childhoods, or forced into swim lessons we weren’t ready for. What some may see as discipline and structure could create a fear or apprehension of water in some children that will be hard to reverse later. We may also expect our children to learn the way we did and have the same experience since they are our offspring, but that’s not always the case. Even competitive swimmers can have a child that is scared to get in the water. Every child is different. (Further Reading: How to Overcome Fear of Water, Psychology Today; Preventing and Overcoming Apprehension of Water, Mario Vittone)
10. Water Introduction Goals
The goal at this stage is to create a secure space for your baby so they want to be in the water, and later, will want to explore the water and learn to swim. Make this process about each child’s learning to swim journey and what they need along the way and you won’t go wrong.
A few things to remember when your child is in the water:
- Never leave your child unattended in or around the water.
- Stay within quick and easy reach of your child at all times.
- If your child is submerged in the water and swallows water, even a little bit, this can result in near drowning (or dry drowning / secondary drowning). Take them to the hospital immediately to be monitored. (Further reading: What You Need to Know About Dry Drowning, Parenting.com)
Watch our Swim Step 1 video to see these tips in action for baby Vivian’s first time in the pool!
Next week we’ll go over Swim Step 2 – Water Exploration.
*Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1-4? Help turn this tragedy around by teaching your kids to swim and practicing water safety with your family. Share this infographic online to help spread the word.