Teaching Kids To Swim: Right Age To Begin, Safety Tips And Process

Teaching Kids To Swim: Right Age To Begin, Safety Tips And Process

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Swimming can be a fun exercise for your child. By learning how to swim, their energy is channelled into a positive direction, and they might also learn a critical life skill. Drowning is a leading cause of death among children (1). While swimming lessons don’t make a child drown-proof, they can serve as a layer of protection (1), reducing the possibility of drowning.

So, do children need to be of a certain age to learn swimming? What precautions should be taken? How should you teach swimming? Read this post to learn everything you need to know about how to teach a child to swim. 

What Is The Best Age To Teach A Child To Swim?

The right age to teach a child to swim is dependent on several factors such as the physical and mental development of the child, their emotional readiness, their exposure to water, and their comfort. The rate of development may differ from child to child. As per the American Academy of Paediatrics, you could introduce swimming lessons to children when they are as young as four years (1).

Pool Safety: AAP Guidelines

Most water-related deaths of children occur at swimming pools at home. To protect children from drowning in pools, the American Academy of Paediatrics have given some pool safety guidelines (1).

  • A child should never be left unsupervised near the pool or a spa.
  • Whenever the child under the age of five is in the pool area, they should be constantly supervised by an adult who has complete knowledge of swimming and CPR. The adult should be present at arm’s length from the child.
  • Ensure that the necessary safety equipment such as a life saver and shepherd’s hook (long pole with attached hook) made of non-conductive material are present near the pool. Also, keep a portable telephone handy for emergencies.
  • Avoid keeping inflatable aids (floaties) as they do not safeguard the child against drowning and may be misconceived as protective gear. Instead, arrange for life jacket
  • The swimming pool and spa should be the first places to check if a child goes missing.
  • The pool should have at least a four-feet high fence on all four sides to prevent the child from getting inside without supervision. There should not be any gaps or openings in the fence through which a child can pass through.
  • The fence doors should have a self-latching and self-closing mechanism. The latch should be at enough height to ensure children cannot unlock it.
  • Set up an alarm on the gate of the pool. If there is a three-sided fence and your house is on the fourth side of the pool, the alarm should be on the door separating the house and the pool. Underwater alarms and surface wave alarms provide added security. The alarms should be in good working condition and batteries should be fully charged.
  • If there is a window facing the pool, ensure that it has a window guard to avoid accidents.
  • Even if you have an inflatable backyard pool, ensure that it is surrounded by a fence.
  • Pool and spa drains should be compliant with the Pool and Spa Safety Act. Check this before using them. Drains with missing or broken covers can be dangerous for the swim

How To Prepare A Child For Swimming?

Taking certain measures can help your child have fun and look forward to every new swimming session. Here are some tips to prepare your little one for swimming.

1. Address their fear of water

If your child is scared of water, instead of directly putting them in the pool, use these tips and tricks to prepare them for swimming.

  • Help them get used to water temperature: Before entering a pool, being used to water temperature might help alleviate some fear. Pour a jug of water maybe.
  • Let them spend some time in the bathtub: Let them have fun in the bathtub. Make the bath time enjoyable by blowing bubbles, singing songs, and playing with them.
  • Allow them to explore: After becoming conditioned to the water, the child may slowly start showing excitement for playing in the pool. You may also let them play with swimming goggles during their bath time (shower as well as bathtubs) to help them develop a positive feel of the pool beforehand.
  • Let them choose their swimming costumes: This is another way to get them excited for swimming lessons. Take your child shopping for a swimming costume and let them select it (2) . Inform them of the purpose behind buying the costume.

2. Make it a positive experience

Getting involved in some fun activities can boost your child’s excitement for swimming.

  • Have a family session: During formal swim lessons, your little one will be surrounded by many people. To get them used to having other people around, you can have a fun pool session with your entire family before the official swim classes begin (2).
  • Enjoy some games: You can start by playing shallow-water games, such as I Spy, with your child. In this game, the child can be made to sit at the edge of the swimming pool and find objects around the pool. Another interesting game is red light green light. The green light indicates “kick fast”, the yellow light indicates “kick slow” and the red light indicates “stop”. The host should shout out the light color and children have to act accordingly. A toddler can play whilst sitting in your lap. Learn a few more fun swimming games here. 

3. Safeguard your child’s health

These additional tips can make your child’s swimming lessons a smoother experience.

  • Ensure they eat a light snack: Swimming require energy. Hence, prior to the swimming sessions, get your little one to eat some light snacks such as fruits or nuts (2).
  • Let them swim with a life jacket: Swimming with a life jacket ensures extra safety for your child. It also helps in swimming by assisting movements such as kicking and pulling.

How To Teach A Child To Swim

1. 1-2 years old

A 1-2-year-old toddler needs to first get used to the water. So, instead of directly going ahead with swimming lessons, introduce them to water. Playing games, splashing around, and singing songs can help them get comfortable. Get into the water along with them to ensure safety and have fun as well. Start communicating the safe pool habits by showing them how to enter and get out of the pool safely.

Water safety tips

      • Keep the baby’s head above the water at all times. Babies are more likely to gulp a lot of water while submerged. Excess water may dilute their normal sodium levels, leading to water intoxication (3). This may cause seizures, coma, brain damage and can be fatal at times (4).
      • Maintaining water purity and chlorine levels is crucial (1)
      • A toddler should be under constant arms-length supervision (3) when near any water body, be it a swimming pool, bathtub, inflatable pool in the backyard, bucket, or even toilets. If left unsupervised, a toddler can drown in just 5cm of water within a few seconds (5).
      • While in the water, hold them in your arms at all times (3).
      • Dress them in a swim diaper and snug-fitted swimming costume (1) for better safety and hygiene.
      • The swim water temperature should be 87 to 94-degree Fahrenheit for children aged three years or below as they are highly susceptible to hypothermia (1).

2. 2 to 3 years old

A two-year-old toddler can be taught to kick their legs and paddle their feet under the water. You can hold them over the water and encourage them to kick as powerfully as they can in the front and back. Teach them the basic skill of floating on their stomach and back with support. Toddlers can get scared when there is water on their faces, so teach them how to blow bubbles underwater. Arm movements can be encouraged by adding floating toys to the water and making the tot reach for them. 

Water safety tips

    • Toddlers this age are curious and may get away (1) from their parents to explore the water on their own. Hence it is important to keep a constant eye on them whenever water is in the vicinity. Don’t engage yourself in other activities that may distract you (6) while watching your child. Just focus on holding them tight!
    • Floating toys, rafts, or water wings may not ensure safety. Invest in a life jacket Check the label to make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved (6) Whenever the child is on a boat, inner tube, raft, or near any water body, they should be wearing a life jacket.
    • Repeatedly instil in their minds that they can only get into the water when they are accompanied by their parents. They should be taught not to run near the pool or any other water
    • If the pool is not being used, toys should not be left lying around the pool and pool area (6). Toddlers may be tempted to go to the pool and reach for the toy if it is left there.
    • Whenever you are at a social event, such as a party or picnic, keep an eye out for children if they are in or near any water In fact, all the parents can take turns to be the “water watchers” (6).

3. 4 to 5 years old

Around the age of four, children start to listen and follow instructions (7). They can also recollect things they learn. All these qualities are great for beginning formal swim lessons. While finalizing the class, ensure that they have professional swim instructors and there is a proper assessment system in place. The classes should allow you to watch the first one (1) or two classes to assess the swimming sessions and safety measures.

Once the training begins, they will soon be able to go into the swimming position from a standing posture and put their head underwater for a few seconds. A 4-year old child can also pick up basic swimming skills such as gliding in the water, floating, and reaching the exit (1).  Coordinated leg and arm movements can be gradually developed.

Water safety tips

    • The pool should be clean and well-maintained with protective gear and first aid availability. It should have clear demarcation indicating the deep and shallow ends of the pool.
    • Even if a lifeguard is present, there should be one more person supervising. One guardian should always be within an arm’s distance of the child.
    • Not all children progress at the same speed while learning swimming. Your child may take more time than the others, and they may have bad days too. A few little ones might get scared. Don’t force them or get angry. Let them take their time. Be patient and encouraging (7).

    4. 6 years old and up

    The endurance increases at this age. Six-year-old children can learn front crawl (1). It also becomes possible for them to hold their breath underwater for longer periods and learn different swimming strokes. You could team them swimming skills such as getting an object from the bottom of the pool or jumping in the water and getting out independently.

    Water safety tips

      • Visual supervision is important even if your child has already learned swimming. However, you do not need to get into the water with them for extra safety.
      • Once children learn swimming, they might try diving. Stress the importance of diving only in the presence of an adult and only in deep water
      • Children should wear a life jacket while doing any water-based activities, such as water skiing, rafting, or boating.
      • Swimming in a pool is very different from open water Hence, it is critical to be extra careful while taking your children near open waters such as lakes or beaches even if they know how to swim.

     

  • Learning to swim can help your child be water-safe. You may decide to teach them swimming yourself or enrol them in swimming classes. It is your choice. However, you should ensure the safety of your child in both cases. Constant supervision is important even after they learn how to swim. While swimming lessons need planning and focus, making them fun will get children interested. Play some games, splash around, sing, and let your little ones learn at their pace.

    References:

    MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

     

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Shivali Karande

Shivali holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a master’s in management. After working for nearly five years in the market research sector, she discovered her passion for writing and started freelancing. Her knowledge about medicines and biology, coupled with her experience in research, helps her write well-researched, informative, and evidence-based articles. For MomJunction, she writes articles on health and... more