Updated: Jul 6, 2022
Summer is an exciting time for all ages and a great opportunity for toddlers and kids to enjoy the sun and water at the beach, pool, or anywhere else your summer travels take you. If you are a parent, guardian, or care giver of a toddler between 12 and 36 months old and want to start teaching your toddler how to swim, then this is for you!
The first and most important thing to consider with a toddler around any body of water is safety. Here are a few tips for extra safety precautions for your outings on the water with your little one.
General Safety Tips:
Always have an appropriately fitting life jacket while on boats, docks, or near any large body of water where your toddler is at risk of falling in
Be sure to closely supervise your toddler near water
Do not submerge children under the age of 3 years old
Pool Safety Tips:
Do not carry your toddler on pool ladders or stairs (Keep reading for tips on how to enter the pool)
Always keep your toddler in your arms in the pool
Don’t rely on floaties (floaties can create a false sense of security in the water)
Early swimmers ages 1-5 should always be closely monitored regardless of their swimming skills
Always monitor your toddler even in shallow bodies of water like a kid’s pool
7 Steps for a Beginner Swimmer
Get your toddler comfortable and moving in the water for the first time or the fifteenth. Regardless of how many times you’ve been in the water with your toddler these seven steps can help ensure a smooth transition from entry to the first steps in teaching your child to swim!
Step One – Getting into the water
As mentioned in the pool safety tips, it is best not to climb stairs or a ladder into the water while holding your toddler. There is always a risk of the parent or caregiver slipping or falling and for the safety of everyone involved, try this method instead:
If possible, find a pool mat or towel and dip it in the pool to wet it with warm water
Place the pool mat or towel flat at the edge of the pool
Lay your toddler on their back on the mat/towel with the toddler’s feet pointed toward the water
Parents and caregivers can sit at the edge of the pool next to their toddler
After sitting next to your toddler, place one arm across your body to secure the toddler’s position at the edge of the water
When you feel your toddler is secure, gently slide into the water while maintaining physical contact with your toddler
After entering the water, support your toddler’s head and neck, pick up your toddler, and pull them towards yourself in the water
Remember to always keep your toddlers face above the water
Step Two – Get Comfortable
The water can be a bit overwhelming for kids of all ages so it is very important to teach your toddler that it can be fun and exciting. Playing games, singing songs, splashing, are some great ways to get your toddler comfortable being in the water. Parents and caregivers should always keep their toddler in their arms during this stage.
Step Three - Swings & Dips
Swings and dips are a great way to introduce movement in the water to your toddler. Swings is a great first step getting your child comfortable having their ears submerged in the water.
Hold your toddler nearly flat on their back supporting their head and hips
Gently sway your toddler back and forth across the water keeping their face completely above water
At the end of each sway, sit your toddler up in the water
Repeat these motions several times to get your toddler more comfortable in the water
Step Four – Teach Breathing Activities
Proper breathing in the water is a very important skill for young children to learn. While toddlers under the age of three should not be fully submerged in the water, knowing not to breathe in while under water is important for any child to prevent drowning. Your toddler may not be able to actively participate in this step until they are older, but demonstration is key and can act as a great learning tool for future practice.
The parent or caregiver should cradle the toddler face to face in the water
Begin demonstrating breathing IN above water and gently blowing OUT below the water
When exhaling below water, try blowing small bubbles with your mouth underwater
Repeat this step several times (eventually your toddler may join in)
Step Five – Teach your Toddler to Kick
Kicking practice can help train your toddler’s muscles, help them understand kicking is necessary for movement in the water, and it involves your toddler actively in the process of learning how to swim. It is important to remember to never leave your toddler unattended regardless of how strong a swimmer they are becoming. While teaching kicking keep your child in your arms.
Parents and caregivers should support the toddlers head and neck against their chest with the toddler facing away
Once the toddler is fully supported, the parent or caregiver can use both hands to gently perform alternating kicks with the toddler’s legs in the water
Step Six – Teach your Toddler to Splash
Now let’s get your toddler’s arms involved, splashing is a great way to start getting your child’s arms moving in a way that replicates swimming.
Parents and caregivers should support their toddler facing away from themselves and guide the toddler’s arms and hands to make small splashes in the water
This step can help toddlers understand how to use their arms in the water and that it is okay to get a bit of water in the face while swimming
Step Seven – Teach your Toddler to Turn
This step is a bit more advanced, and a pool noodle or some sort of flotation device that will
allow your toddler to be positioned upright in the water is necessary. Even with a flotation device, it is important to never allow your toddler out of arms reach and suggested to keep physical contact with your contact while in the water. Turning in the water is a great first step on teaching your child how to tread in the water.
Place a pool noodle under your toddler’s arms close to their chest
Instruct your toddler to use their arms and legs to turn in the water
Tell your toddler to look up at the sky/ceiling to keep their face far from the surface of the water
Parents and caregivers should support their toddler by helping them stay afloat keeping their head above the water, guiding the toddler’s hips while turning, and making sure the toddler’s legs remain pointed towards the ground while practicing.
That’s a Wrap!
Thank you for reading about water safety and the 7 first steps to swimming for your toddler. This only scratches the surface of what there is to know about water safety and swimming. To learn more, check out our attached resources and remember to check out the Skyrocket Pediatric Therapy Foundation blog for related content.
Olivia is a Doctor of Physical Therapy Student at Hanover College and President of her class. She currently lives in New Mexico but frequently travels and loves to go on hikes with her dog.