Teach your Toddlers How to Swim!
We were having a company pool party recently, and when I asked someone why they weren't doing backflips off the diving board, he replied "Don't know how to swim".
I was sad when I heard this, for many reasons. One, he has to carry around baggage full of fear his whole life. Two, he was missing on out on great fun, fitness and family togetherness. Three, he would be unable to help a person struggling in the water, and Fourth, this may pass on to his own children.
Parents, I implore you! Teach your Babies to Swim! For a small investment of your time and money, you can give your child a very large gift. Don't wait to late! As young as 6 months, you can begin acclimation. Between 6 and 9 months of age, babies begin to lose their natural reflexes to being under water. And when they are old enough to walk steadily, they are old enough to swim. Most drownings occur to children under the age of 5, so start early!
Here's some Tips on Teaching Toddlers to Swim
1. Start Small, Start Slow. The first few trips to the pool should not involve swimming, but acclimation to the water. Hold your child as you move around in the water. Stay as shallow as you can. Use the step area if there is one. If baby gets fussy, set her on the edge of the pool and kick her legs. If a baby pool is available, these are great confidence builders. Your child will indicate their confidence and security by their level of clinginess or fussiness. Look to this comfort level, and strive to go just beyond it
2. Provide fun swimsuits and proper swim gear. Swimsuit, swim diapers, sunscreen and a hat. Introduce goggles or a mask made to fit small faces, but don't be surprised if they don't like them at first. A proper floatation device or floatation suit is an excellant idea. In recent years, such products have improved over water wings, in both comfort and safety. Water wings can be a hindrance to free arm motion needed in swimming, look to these USCG approved swim vests, Puddle Jumpers or padded floation swimsuits.
3. Blow Bubbles. A silly game, and easy to start in the bathtub. Many kids will fear putting their face into the water, and/or opening their eyes under water. Start small, go slow with bubbles, and then follow by demonstrating a full face dunk in the water. If your child will keep their eyes open, ask them to look at you under water. Blowing bubbles is the start of learning breath control. Not breathing under water is something that is instinctive, but it is trained with games of blowing bubbles under water, or holding breath and going under water for a second.
4. Learn to Kick. Demonstrate the flutter kick, or freestyle kick while holding on to the pool wall. Then hold your child at the wall, supporting her underneath, and have her kick slowly and smoothly. If she can hold herself on the wall, you can lightly move her legs in the proper motion with your hands, up and down, not too fast or jerky. Using a kickboard is the next step, or you can just hold baby under the abdomen, walking while she kicks. Keep the kicking motion up near the surface of the water, in a horizontal orientation, parallel to the pool floor.
5. Learn to Float. Filling our lungs full of air makes it easier to float. Floating on your back requires that you push your head back, and lift the pelvis, As you begin to help your child float, provide support beneath their mid section, just very light support. Soothing words and touch will help reassure your child. Stay in the shallow end of the pool, preferably at a depth that the child can stand.
6. Jumping In! With the child standing on the edge of the pool, they simply jump into your arms. A favorite kid activity, it eventually leads to them jumping in a few feet from you, popping up and swimming to you. But start slow, don't exceed their comfort level by too much. Diving will come later, at this point they could have fun doing the "Pencil" or maybe a "Splash Daddy Cannonball". Diving in from a seated position on the pool edge is a good transition to diving.
7. Jumping Off! An important skill to teach and learn is that you can always push off the bottom to the surface. Many tragedies occur in pools when people are in water deeper than they can stand, and even adults don't realize, that they can push off the bottom strongly, break the surface and take a big breath. First you would demonstrate the jumping game, exhaling whilst under water "watch my bubbles!', and taking a big exaggerated breath as you come above surface. Begin by holding your child around the waist, and jumping up with her. If the comfort is there, they can try solo jumping off, as you watch underwater.
8. Safety Skills. Teach a Buddy System - Never Swim Alone. Secondly, discuss why the lifeguards are there (if you have lifeguards). Explain that people aren't fish, we can't breath under water, and that learning to swim is the best security blanket. Be careful not to instill too much fear at this point, before they are fully acclimated and comfortable to the water. Most important is to Never Swim Alone, never play next to the pool where you may fall in and take a break when you get tired. Other good pool rules are: no horseplay, no running, no dunking - mostly for the older kids.
Swimming comes later, the ultimate goal here is comfort and security. Knowing they can hold their breath under water, they can push off the bottom, and that the edge of the pool is very close, and so are you. These are precious times with your child, and the gift of swimming is one of the best life skills I know of, enriching the lives of so many people. If you can get your toddler to do something like the picture below, you can call your efforts successful.
If you have a home pool, Learning to Swim and Learning Safety Skills is on of the best safety measures you can take. However, please make sure that Layers of Protection are in place.
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by Rob Cox, July 19, 2010