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This post was last updated on January 19th, 2019 at 05:59 pm
For some parents, teaching their baby to swim can be a very intimidating concept. Baby Isla is only 16 months old but she is already very comfortable in the water and is so close to swimming on her own! It has been so exciting watching her learn how to jump in and out of the water and swim from one end to the other with her armbands on.
Now, swimming comes more naturally for some babies than others, but ultimately it is the parents who impact how quickly and what the baby learns. With Isla, my husband and I have taught her the skills she has now. If I’m being quite honest, a lot of what she knows has been my husband’s doing and his patience in working with her!
If you are thinking about beginning to teach your baby how to swim, I want to share with you five tips for you to be successful the first time around. It may require some time for your little one to catch on, especially if they are not already comfortable in the water, but if you keep at it and are patient with them it will be such a wonderful experience and can be life near the water a lot safer too! (ps- my husband is a trained teacher and athlete so is qualified to give this advice!)
1. Exposure to water
Expose your baby to the water as early as you can. While many people choose to only allow their little ones to get their feet wet in the baby pool, try to allow them to safely be in the water where they can swim. While in the water, have them kick their feet and splash with their hands. Let them learn to enjoy the feeling of the water on their face as well as put the water on their heads.
We first too Isla swimming at around 3 months and she has gone every week since then. She has been in warm baby pools, in the cooler adult pools, in thermal waters in Costa Rica, freezing cold waterfalls in Spain and the warm waves of the Indian Ocean in Sri Lanka! It is good to get your baby familiar with different types of water too, so that they don’t become too expectant of the same pool/ area of water.
2. Confidence in the water
The more confident you are in the water, the confident your baby will be as well. Your little ones are very intuitive and have the tendency to feed off of your energy and your worries. Try to be as positive as possible, even if you do have some worries.
When you take a next step in the swimming journey, such as dunking your baby’s head under the water, show them a big smile and a reassuring hug! We are often complimented on how Isla is so confident when we take her swimming- this is all because of the way we have encouraged and supported her, without ‘wrapping her up in cotton wool’.
3. Buoyancy in the water
One of the hardest things for a baby to feel in the water is the buoyancy because they are usually held very tightly by their parents or loved ones when they are in the water. It is important for them to be able to wiggle around and really feel what it’s like to have their body in there.
When we bring Isla into the water, my husband holds her quite loosely by her belly, giving her freedom of her hips and the ability to move her arms. If she struggles, we let her fall under or let her head dunk. This was she learns what the water is like!
4. Leg Kick and swimming techniques
The only way your baby will get the idea of what it is to swim and to move in the water is to learn to kick their feet in the water. You can use floatation devices with your baby while doing this part, such as armbands or a float (we bought these from Amazon).
Once baby starts to walk, he/she will really get the hang of the kick that will be useful when they are swimming. They will, however, also try to walk in the pool if the ground is within reach! I recommend staying in an area that is out of baby’s depth to avoid this.
In order to encourage leg kicking I suggest that you hold your baby from behind, let them establish their own buoyancy and give them strong encouragement while they are starting to kick. Many parents, when they put their baby into the water, tend to move for them and move them through the water. Unfortunately, this isn’t teaching them at all to learn to kick and move themselves, it is better if you stay put until they kick and then move them through the water- this way they will learn that kicking = movement! For an incentive, using a ball is a great way to encourage your little one to swim towards it.
5. Independence in the water
Last but not least, the sooner your baby feels like they can be in the water themselves, the better. Arm bands and flotation devices are a great way to allow your little one to feel that independence and feel confident swimming by themselves. We try to let Isla be as independent as possible and she is very comfortable being in the water without us holding her.
It is also important, however, that they do not become overconfident! For this reason we constantly advise Isla to be careful, not to run around the water and hold our hands when we are near water. If she dunks a little we let it happen so that she learns. We would never put her in any danger, but we also want her to appreciate that water can be dangerous and that she needs to be sensible and careful!
One of the best things about baby Isla learning to swim at such a young age is that she will ultimately be safer in and around the water. She will know how to move in the water either to the side or to the steps and will give us more time to get to her in an emergency situation. This is why we have focussed so heavily on teaching her to swim. WE believe that it is very important for all young children to learn essential swimming and lifesaving skills, but this is especially important for us given that we travel regularly and are often close to water.
Have you taught your baby to swim? Do you have any tips or tricks to share about your experience?