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How to Teach a Toddler to Swim

One of the best water activities you can do with your child is swimming, bar none.

As a full body workout - great for endurance, cardio, and more - a swimming child is indeed a healthy one. And, your little tike will always have something to do during the summer!

But what exactly are the health benefits of swimming? You may be surprised!

1. Whole Body Workout Swimming requires the use of all your limbs, and consistent breathing. It increases heart rate without putting additional stress on the body, so it helps to build healthy lungs as well as healthy muscles.

2. Great for Children with Injuries and Disabilities The benefits of swimming are equally realized by completely normal children, and those with injuries or disabilities. As long as you understand how to scale workouts for children with physical difficulties and injuries, they too can become healthier through swimming.

This includes children with multiple sclerosis and other physically disabling conditions! Even children with asthma are able to swim, and it can help build stronger lungs - this will benefit them in the long run!

3. Improves Sleep and Mood Using up energy with a workout is always a great way to improve sleep. Children are energetic little guys, and parents are always looking for healthy ways to have them burn off some of that excess energy.

Additionally, any workout is great for mood. Serotonin and dopamine - two crucial endorphins that determine mood - are released during any exercise. Swimming, as a full-body workout, floods the brain with the stuff, which will help keep children happy!

Now that you understand the benefits of teaching children to swim, let’s get down to how!

Step-By-Step: How to Teach a Toddler to Swim

Step 1: Find a Proper Spot

Safety while teaching a child to swim is of the utmost importance.

When looking for the right spot to teach your child, it’s best to find a place where there are no other children. That’s because, as we all know, keeping a cool head is crucial to floating - outlined in the next step. With other kids around, it’s easy for your toddler to get worked up.

If you have your own private pool, that’s the perfect place to start. As long as there is a shallow end, you can be certain they will be safe throughout the whole process. Otherwise, if you can’t find a private place to give your toddler a swimming lesson, any uncrowded place will do - whether that’s a pool or a lake, either is fine.

Step 2: Learning to Float

Perhaps the single most important skill in swimming is floating.

You’ll want to make sure you have floaties for your little nugget’s arms. Using floaties is the best way to allow them to float in the water unassisted, which helps build comfort in the water.

Being able to float unassisted gives toddlers the ability to feel comfortable in the water. A calm mindset is the stage upon which they build confidence, so you’ll want to work with your child setting them off on their own.

If your child experiences any fear while floating, immediately pull them back in and comfort them. After a couple of tries, they should feel just fine in the water.

Step 3: Start with Pushing Water

Once you have them floating on their own, you have to teach them exactly how moving around in the water works.

Since they will be sitting upright at this point, show them how to push water around them yourself. With a big open stroke, put your hands together in front of you with palms facing out, and separate the water in front of you. You can also move forward a little bit, indicating that doing so will push you forward.

Toddlers have a natural tendency to imitate those around them, so after a few attempts they should be doing the same for themselves. And, since they won’t necessarily catch on that you’re moving yourself forward, they should see some forward movement on their own over time.

Make sure to celebrate even this small victory - the goal is to have your toddler moving forward on their own, so any reward that reinforces that as the point of the exercise will only inspire them to do even more!

Step 4: Kicking Feet

Now it’s time to teach them how to kick their feet. A child’s legs are often stronger than their arms, so this will be the most important exercise to practice.

This is best done at the side of the pool. Get them to hold on to the end of the pool - either by themselves if possible, or by you holding their hands - and move their feet up and down. What I’ve seen work well is to say “kick!” after each movement, so they associate the movement with the word.

Once they start kicking on their own, they are ready to move on to the next step - kicking and stroking horizontally

Step 5: Moving Horizontally

This is where all the motions you’ve taught your child so far come together.

In this exercise, lift up their feet to almost water level. You can do this while standing behind them. Then, as long as they’ve responded positively to “kick!”, then let ‘er rip!

As they kick, move them forward in the water. The idea isn’t to trick them into thinking that they are moving themselves - it’s about understanding that moving forward is the goal.

Your child may have difficulty holding themselves up, which is completely O.K.! Holding yourself up while swimming requires a significant amount of abdominal strength, which your little tike may not have yet.

That leads into our next step - be persistent!

Step 6: Be Persistent!

As any parent can attest, it can definitely get frustrating showing your child the same thing over and over again. That’s why this step really is a part of all the other steps.

We all know that babies are born with a natural ability to swim, but that is lost not too long after birth. That means you’re most likely starting from square one regardless.

Take solace in the fact that toddlers are within that specific age range - two to four years old - where their minds are like sponges. It’s not uncommon that toddlers find themselves swimming very quickly by themselves!


Swimming Lessons

You may be a busy mom or dad, or you want to enlist the help of a professional. That’s where swimming lessons come in!

YMCA Swimming Lessons

Nearly every YMCA in the country offers swimming lessons - as long as they have a pool on the premises, you can bet they have an expert instructor on hand conducting swimming lessons.

You’ll want to make sure they take on toddlers as students, or children from 12 to 36 months of age.

Don’t know where your local YMCA is? Click here to find out!

Private Swimming Lessons

For parents who either don’t have access to a YMCA or would prefer private lessons, there are in fact quite a few instructors who work with toddlers.

One of the best services that operates all over the country is Sunsational Swim School, which has been featured on ABC and CBS. Check out their website here.

Remember to Have Fun!

There’s no better way for a child to learn than while having fun. Whatever you can do to help your child have fun - singing songs, making up games, or something completely different! - it will only help.

Teaching a toddler to swim is also a valuable bonding experience. As you teach them this crucial skill, you can use this as an opportunity to get closer to them. Make them laugh, celebrate their successes, and enjoy this as an opportunity to make lasting, tender memories.

Happy swimming!

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