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You Can Teach Your Baby How to Swim
Contrary to what the “experts” say, you can teach your baby to swim. When I say baby, I mean 12 months or older. Six-month-olds can be taught to flip over and float, but it’s a bit more complicated. Most parents are led to believe by well-intentioned pediatricians or swimming instructors that they either need to be at least 3 years old to start, or they need to be taught by a professional. I am here to tell you that I have taught all four of my children to swim and it is very doable.
There are a few things to consider when preparing to become a swim instructor for your own offspring. Number one: You need to understand that swimming is a skill like any other skill your child takes on. As with learning to walk, there are times when your baby is afraid. After a while, however, as you gain confidence, the frustration and tears subside and joy and enjoyment take their place. Second: There will be people who disagree with you for attempting this and will try to get you to stop. I know it sounds crazy, but I can think of several times where I was literally accosted by onlookers who had no idea what I was trying to accomplish. This can be avoided by choosing a private environment for your classes.
Before I go any further, let me comment on the floaties and say this right off the bat: If you want your baby to learn to swim, never put them on their little arms. Floats give a young child a false sense of security. I’ll never forget a day at the public pool in Kirksville, Missouri, when a kid about 4 years old jumped into the water 4 feet deep right next to me and sank straight to the bottom. Luckily, I was right there and grabbed it before the lifeguard had a chance to jump into the water. His mother apologized and said, “He usually has his swim rings on. He must have forgotten that he can’t swim without them.” I held my tongue then, but now you know. The other thing about floaties is that they promote verticality in the water, which is the opposite of learning to swim horizontally.
The lessons themselves can be no more than ten minutes. The baby will be working very hard during this time, so working for a short time will control the natural exhaustion. Be disciplined about it. Make sure you have a watch that keeps the minutes. Classes should also be frequent. I like to do four or five days a week whenever possible. If you have more than one child, sit them out while you work with each of them until they can swim independently. I make it a rule that they cannot interrupt each other’s swimming lessons. Also make sure your little swimmer hasn’t just eaten and isn’t too tired (sleep time).
In waist-deep water (for you), start by making sure your baby can hold onto the wall at the edge of the pool. Do this a few times so they understand that their job is to get the wall. Move the wall one centimeter away and tell the baby to pick up the wall. If it slips under the water, that’s okay. Just watch for it to reach up and grab it again. She might be crying by then. That’s fine too. Now you’ll hear when you’re breathing easier, and you’ll know when to hit the wall again. Tell him what a clever baby he is for getting the wall. He learns that he cannot breathe underwater and must hold his breath. He also learns that the wall is where he is safe. Sometimes the water level is too low, making it too far for the baby to reach the edge. This can be easily remedied by talking to the pool owner.
Hitting the wall three times is enough for this first lesson. Later he will introduce variations such as turning so that his side is facing the wall so he has to turn to get it and “falling” into the water with his back to the wall so he has to turn completely before he can reach it, and even tries different orientations towards the water (e.g. head first, sideways, etc.) when it feels really good.
Now he wants to take it out to the middle of the shallow end and, holding it on one shoulder, shows how he kicks his leg. Do this for a few minutes while saying “kick, kick, kick”. Then hold it out in front of you, pull it towards you through the water and tell it to put its hand under the water. Immediately after inhaling, release it and let it glide towards you for a second or two. Praise lavishly. Two more times and it should be like this in the first lesson.
Do this for a few days until your baby holds his breath predictably and is comfortable with cues from him. After about a week, you should be able to tuck your leg under you and let it push against your thighs to propel yourself up the wall. From this point on, you will be able to finish your lessons with one or more of these “big swims” against the wall. The baby is going to swim and you helped him learn.
Then you can add even more variation to your swimming routine. You can add a flip to the backswim to take a breath mid-swim to catch your hand. You can also add that it floats on its back and flips to continue swimming to catch your hand or the wall. At this point, he will be having so much fun that he will even jump into the water from the side and swim to you. This is fun to show off at the public pool, especially if it’s been avoided before. I had people who criticized me when I started and commented on what amazing swimmers my kids were and how they were surprised at how much they could do at such a young age.
Of course, no matter how well your baby and children can swim, you will never stop watching them very closely around the water – but you knew that. If any of these make you uncomfortable, by all means don’t do them. I don’t think you should do that. I’m just saying that if you really want to teach your baby to swim, you can. I did. Four times.
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