5 Things You Must Do to Succeed in Teaching Your Kids to Swim

Safety comes first, but an important part of your goal is to make learning to swim fun, for yourself and your child. In order to do that you have to bring certain things to the party. Here are the five things you have to do to succeed in teaching your kids to swim.

Practice Patience

If you go into this process with a deadline in mind, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Be patient with your child and with yourself. Don’t rush things. Think of the process as being as important as the goal.

Your patience will let your child relax and explore, which are both critical to learning. Your patience will also let you relax and explore. You’ll have the ability to pay full attention to your child’s progress without judging it, so you’ll be a better teacher. You won’t put pressure on your child or yourself, so you’ll both be able to enjoy each other and the process.

When you’re patient, you increase the possibility of finding joy in each lesson. Your child will associate that joy with the lessons and with swimming.

Have a Positive Attitude

While you may be focused on what you’re trying to accomplish, don’t forget to give your child plenty of encouragement, both in and out of the water. Be sincere and positive. Remind him that what you’re doing together is going to keep him safe and healthy and that it’s going to be lots of fun, especially long term.

Watch What You Bring to the Water

Ideally, you should have basic water safety, CPR, and first aid training. The Red Cross and hospitals often offer this training.

Kids read your body language and are attuned to your mental and emotional state. They’re aware of tension in your body and whether your breathing is slow and steady or fast and shallow.

If you’re afraid or concerned, your child will pick up on that. Until you’re over your own fear, you’re not in a good position to teach your child. (Rather, you’re in the perfect position to pass your fear on to your child.) In fact, if you’re afraid, it’s going to be tougher for your child even if you’re not the one doing the teaching.

Prepare yourself before you go into the water by focusing on and visualizing your plan for your time in the water with your child. Remind yourself to let go of concerns about other things. Remind yourself that you’re doing something wonderful for your child’s health, safety, and future. Remind yourself that you want this lesson to be fun for both of you. Smile and take some deep breaths. Before you get into the pool, give your child a hug, a kiss, and a smile, and tell him you love him. You’ll set the tone for the lesson, and it will be serene, gently focused, loving, and effective.

Respect Your Kids’ Feelings

Don’t deny or minimize what your kids are feeling. Acknowledge it, be direct about it, and be matter-of-fact about it. Whether your child is angry about having to be uncomfortable or try something new, afraid of the water, happy about the opportunity to play with you, or proud of the progress he’s making, he’ll feel secure when you acknowledge his feelings.

There’s no need to be dramatic about it. Remain calm. All you have to do is say, “So you’re feeling angry? I can understand that. You’re feeling afraid? I can understand that.” Acknowledging and respecting the feeling is the first step to moving past the feeling.

If your child is afraid, avoid the knee-jerk reaction to deny his fear. It’s not helpful to tell him that there’s nothing to be afraid of or that he shouldn’t worry. Acknowledge that it’s reasonable for him to be afraid. Until he has the skills to be safe, the water is dangerous. That’s a rational fear.

If an activity brings up fear for your child, back off. Inch into it a little at a time. As soon as his fear starts to rise, backtrack to an activity your child is comfortable with and spend plenty of time in that comfortable, confident place.

Respect Your Kids’ Developmental Stages

Don’t compare your child to other kids. Everybody learns at different rates and in different ways. Some things may be easier than others for your child to learn. You may be great at predicting this, but you may also be taken by surprise. Be flexible and be prepared to deal with the reality of your child’s experience instead of your expectations of how things should be.

Bonus 6th Thing: Don’t Expect Perfection

You don’t expect your kids to be perfect. Why would you be? Don’t expect yourself to be perfect at this, and don’t expect teaching your child to swim to be easy all the time. If you keep your goal in mind, though, you can maintain the perspective you need to make teaching your child to swim an experience you’ll both enjoy.

Time to Play! Getting into the Pool

Kids learn by playing. The more you can make learning to swim fun for your kids, the more they’ll like it, the quicker they’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have teaching them.

If your kids are working on getting into the pool by themselves, try having them play this game.

How would different animals get into the pool? Try it like a cat, a bear, a butterfly, and a hummingbird. How about a crocodile—check out some cool Youtube footage of that—a duck, a frog, a tiger, a dog, or a hippo?

A word of warning: make sure to screen the Youtube possibilities before you share them with your kids. There’s nothing like an errant viewing of a crocodile in a swimming pool to make your kids afraid of the water.

What’s your kids’ favorite animal to imitate?

6 Factors That Determine How Long It Will Take Your Kids to Learn to Swim

Whether you’re teaching your kids to swim on your own or taking them to swimming lessons, you probably wonder when you can expect results. Whether they’re working up the courage to get into the pool for the first time or working on turning a dog paddle into a crawl, there are 6 factors that determine how long it takes your kids to learn to swim.

How long it takes is completely dependent on you and your child. That’s both the good news and the bad news.

6 Factors That Determine How Long It Will Take Your Kids to Learn to Swim

Where are your kids physically, mentally and emotionally?

If your kids are the ones who make other parents cringe–you’re too used to it to be afraid–when they climb to the very top of each tree at the park or do flips off the monkey bars, you can expect that physical precociousness to translate to the water. If your kids take a little longer to learn physical skills or still feel a little awkward in their bodies, learning how to move to swim will take a little longer, too.

If your kids pick up new ideas quickly, they’ll probably pick up the concepts they need for swimming quickly, too. If they tend to take their time and ponder things a little longer, you can expect that learning style to be reflected in the pool.

If your kids are confident and embrace change and challenge, the emotional part of learning to swim will be a breeze. If your kids are like my son, sometimes stubborn and fearful, that will tack some time onto the process.

How creative are you?

The more new and different approaches you can apply when you’re teaching your kids to swim, the more opportunities you’ll give them to get each idea. You’ll also be giving them more mental hooks to internalize and deepen what they learn.

How comfortable are your kids with the water already?

If your kids love to splash, you’ve got a head start. If they’ve spent their entire lives wading at the beach or having you hold them in the backyard pool, they’re ripe to learn to swim. If they’re uncomfortable getting wet, you’ve got a longer path ahead of you.

How motivated is your child?

Do your kids want to learn to swim, or is it just something you want for them. Having older siblings who get to play and have fun in the water motivates most kids to want to learn. So does wanting to do something that requires swimming, such as surfing or even getting rid of the goofy-looking water wings.

If swimming doesn’t have an appeal on its own, don’t hesitate to find and use extrinsic motivators. Has your child been eyeing a new skateboard or video game? It’s his—as soon as he can swim the width of the pool by himself.

How sensitive are your kids to physical stimuli?

When they get cold or wet, do they laugh it off or burst into tears? The more sensitive your kids are, the more effort you’ll need to make to keep their swimming lessons as comfortable for them as possible. No matter what you do, though, learning to swim often involves being cold, and it definitely involves getting wet. If that’s a mental or emotional stumbling block for your kids, teaching your kids to swim will take a little longer. (I still have to psych myself to get into a cold pool. My son just jumps right in.)

Does your child like novelty or the familiar?

If your kids like thrills, meeting new people, and changes in routine, they’ll probably enjoy the novelty of swimming. If your kids get thrown out of whack by those things, the novelty of swimming will be a stressor they’ll have to get used to before you can make much progress teaching them to swim.

A big shift in skill and ability will happen when your child learns to relax in the water. Ironically, it’s hard to relax in the water until you have enough skill to feel comfortable. If you hit a bump in the swimming road, take a moment to consider these 6 factors and whether they’re affecting your kids’ progress.

3 Things Water Safety Isn’t

Once you’re confident that your kids are water safe, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve done your job. The swimming lessons are over. Teaching your kids to swim really paid off.

Don’t pour that margarita and lose yourself in a summer read just yet, though. When you understand what water safety means, it’s also important to have a good grasp of what it doesn’t mean.

3 Things Water Safety Doesn’t Mean

  • It doesn’t mean that you’ve removed all risk. Swimming, like the rest of life, will never be completely without risk. Water is a powerful element. Even water that doesn’t look overly rough can toss large adults around. Have fun but be careful.
  • It doesn’t mean being able to swim without adult supervision. No one, including an adult, should ever swim alone. One slip and a bump on the head on dry land is probably nothing more than a boo-boo. In the water, it could mean death.
  • It doesn’t mean being a competitive swimmer. Mastering the major strokes requires many hours of committed training. The number of hours to mastery being thrown around these days is 10,000. That’s five years of forty-hour work weeks. Not many swimmers have that much training under their trunks.

Mastery also requires a high level of motor development. Your child’s level of coordination in the water will look a lot like his coordination on land. Before you find yourself disappointed with his crawl, ask yourself how good he is at jumping rope.