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.

The Top 3 Reasons to Teach Your Own Kids to Swim

Why did I teach my kid to swim instead of outsourcing the job? You’re probably thinking the answer’s obvious: I’m a masochist. I’m really not.

I decided to teach him myself for three top reasons.

My Top 3 Reasons

Reason #1: He had to learn.

There are lots of reasons to learn to swim. It’s fun. It helps prevent childhood obesity. You need it to do all sorts of amazing sports and activities. While I entertained visions of my son yachting and kayaking and surfing in his future, I have to confess that my main motivation was fear that he’d drown.

Drowning kills more than 2000 kids under five a year in the US. Drowning is the cause of 30% of all deaths of kids between one and four, and more than 75% of the kids who drown were seen by a parent less than five minutes before they were found.

(These statistics and many more are available from the CDC and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Perfect for those times when you find you’re just not worrying about your kids enough.)

Reason #2: I wasn’t happy with the effects and results of swimming lessons.

I love swimming, and I wanted my son to have that same joy. Swimming lessons were not giving it to him. (They also weren’t teaching him to swim.)

Here were the problems:

  • He was afraid. He didn’t know the teachers. The clock was ticking and they just wanted him to get into the pool. I hated that he cried and clung to my leg. I agonized over whether to force him to leave me, which I did. It was painful for both of us.
  • He was miserable. The pool was cold, and even though he was wearing a wetsuit, he spent so much of his time waiting for other kids to practice that he was blue—not his normal color—by the end of each lesson.
  • He wasn’t learning. The teachers didn’t adjust their teaching plans to fit his needs. The college kids who were teaching swimming as a summer job had a boilerplate swimming lesson structure, and if what they were trying didn’t work, they kept hammering away at it anyway. Week after week, I watched my son practice the same skills without getting better or learning anything new.

There are definitely great swimming lessons and great swimming teachers out there. If I could have had my son take three private lessons a week from the owner of his swimming school, the results might have been great. The reality, though, is that nobody cared as much about helping my son learn to swim, fast, and about making sure he was having fun doing it, as I did.

Reason #3: I thought I could do it, and it turned out I was right.

I knew my son better than anybody else. I knew how to swim. Beyond that, I figured I could learn.

Here’s where the masochism comes in. I’m a little bit obsessive, so I went into major research mode. I read dozens of books. I interviewed experts. I took CPR and lifeguarding classes. I spent a lot of time in the pool with my son and other kids, teaching them to swim. (We all had a good time doing that.) I used my experience as a former assistant preschool teacher to expand on my research and develop new and better techniques.

Now my son knows how to swim. The hard part is over. It turned out that it wasn’t hard at all. It was so much easier than watching him suffer in swimming lessons. It ended up being fun. It makes me smile just thinking about him jumping into my arms in the pool or getting a piggyback ride. The moment when he first realized that he was moving himself through the water? I got to see his face close up.

Teaching kids to swim

I did a lot of research and practice, and I’d hate to see that go to waste, so I’m going to share tips and tricks for teaching kids to swim here. If I can do it, so can you.

Any swimming lesson horror stories out there?