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You Can Teach Your Baby How to Swim
Contrary to what the “experts” say, you can teach your baby how to swim. When I say baby, I mean 12 months or older. Six-month-olds can be taught to flip and float, but it’s a little more difficult. Most parents are led to believe by well-meaning pediatricians or swimming instructors that either they need to be at least 3 to start or that 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 be a swimming instructor for your own offspring. Number one: You need to understand that swimming is a skill, like any other, that your child sets out to learn. Like learning to walk, there will be times when the baby is shy. However, after some time, as he or she gains confidence, frustration and tears subside and joy and enjoyment take their place. Number two: There will be people who disagree with you for trying to do this, and who will try to talk you out of it. I know it sounds crazy, but I recall several occasions where I was literally confronted by viewers who didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish. This can be avoided by choosing a private setting for your lessons.
Before I go any further, let me just comment on floaties by saying this right up front: If you want your baby to learn to swim, you should never even put them on their little arms. Floaties provide a false sense of security to a young child. I will never forget one day at the public pool in Kirksville, Missouri, when a young child about 4 years old jumped right into the water next to me at a depth of 4 feet and proceeded to sink straight to the bottom. Luckily, I was right there and I grabbed him before the lifeguard even had a chance to jump in the water. His mother apologized and said, “He usually has his floaties. He must have forgotten that he can’t swim without them.” I held my tongue then, but now you know. The other thing about floats is that they encourage an upright position in the water which is counterproductive to learning the swimming posture which is horizontal.
The lessons themselves should be short ten minutes maximum. Your baby will be working very hard during this time, so keeping it short will control for the tiredness that will naturally occur. Be disciplined about this. Make sure you have a watch to keep track of the minutes for you. The lessons should also be frequent. I like to do four or five days a week whenever possible. If you have more than one child, you can have them sit down while you work with each one until they can swim well on their own. I make it a rule that they can’t interrupt each other’s swimming lesson. Also, make sure your little swimmer hasn’t just eaten and that he or she isn’t too tired (nap time).
In high water (for you), start by making sure your baby can grip the wall at the side of the pool. Do this a few times so they understand that their job is to get the wall. Move away from the wall an inch and tell your baby to get the wall. If she slides under the water, that’s okay. Just watch her reach and grab it again. At this time, she might cry. That’s okay too. Now you will be able to hear when she breathes in more easily and know when she should grab the wall again. Tell her what a clever baby she is for getting the wall. She learns that she cannot breathe underwater and that she must hold her breath. She also learns that the wall is where she is safe. Sometimes the water level is too low, so it is too far for the baby to reach the edge. This is easily corrected by talking to the pool owner.
Grabbing the wall three times is enough for this first lesson. Later, you will introduce variations such as turning her so that her side is facing a wall, so she has to turn to get it, having her “fall” into the water with her back to the wall, so she has to turn all the way before she can get to it and even try different orientations to the water (ie head first, going in on her side, etc) when she gets really good.
You want to take her out to the middle of the shallow end now and, holding her on one shoulder, show her how to kick her legs. Do this for a few minutes saying “kick, kick, kick.” Then hold her in front of you, pulling her through the water towards you and tell her to put your hand under the water. As soon as she inhales, release her and let her slide towards you for a brief second or two. Praise lavishly. Two more times, and that should do it for the first lesson.
Do this for several days until your baby holds her breath predictably and you feel comfortable taking cues from her. After a week, you should be able to put her legs under her and let her push off your thighs to move herself to the wall. From that point, you will be able to finish her lessons with one or more of these “big swims” to the wall. Your baby will swim, and you will have helped her learn.
At that point, you can add more variation to the swimming routine. You can add a flip to a back float to breathe in the middle of her swim to catch your hand. You can also add floating on her back and flip to restart her swimming to grab your hand or the wall. By this time, she will have so much fun, she may even jump into the water from the side and swim to you. This is fun to show off at the public pool, especially if you’ve been shunned there before. I had people criticize me when I started to come up and realize what amazing swimmers my kids were and that they were surprised at how much they could do at such a young age.
Of course, no matter how well your baby and kids can swim, you’ll never stop watching them very closely around the water—but you knew that. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it at all. This is definitely not what I think you should do. All I’m saying is that if you really want to teach your baby how to swim, you can. i did Four times.
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