15 Don’ts When You’re Teaching Your Kids to Swim

If you haven’t already, check out some things you should do–here, here, here, and here–when you’re teaching your kids to swim. Got it? Great! Now keep in mind these 15 “don’ts” and you’ll be ready to start teaching your kids to swim (or reinforcing the lessons their swimming teacher has already taught).

Don’t lose your child’s trust

  • Don’t throw your child into the water to teach him to swim, ever.
  • Don’t force your child into water without preparing him.
  • Don’t deny it if your child has a scary moment.
  • Don’t trick your child or lie.

Don’t send your child subtle messages that he should fear the water

  • Don’t wipe it off if water gets on your face or your child’s face.
  • Don’t prevent him from trying new things in the water.
  • Don’t overreact if he swallows some water.
  • Don’t yell.

Don’t let your expectations interfere with your child’s progress

  • Don’t expect your child’s swimming to be fast, especially in the beginning.
  • Don’t expect very young kids to learn strokes before they’re developmentally ready.
  • Don’t expect your child to pick up right away where you left off at the end of the last lesson.
  • Don’t expect your child to do it perfectly.

What to Do When Swimming Lessons Aren’t Working

You’ve ponied up the big bucks to give your kids swimming lessons. They have to learn—it’s unsafe not to. You want them to learn—it’s summer, and the whole family could be having fun at the pool. Somehow, the lessons just aren’t working.

Make sure you’re making the most of swimming lessons.

If you haven’t already, read the post dedicated to this topic. If you’ve tried those five tips as well as the ones below and your swimming school still doesn’t feel right, consider switching schools. Sometimes the associations kids make during the first few lessons can influence their attitudes as they continue. Sometimes the teachers aren’t a good fit for your kids. Sometimes the pool is just too darn cold.

Understand that plateaus are a normal part of learning.

Plateaus are normal. So are setbacks. Sometimes increased awareness of what’s going on can actually make performance worse for a while, but that awareness is critical. It’s part of the learning process.

Your kids might get frustrated or discouraged at this point and want to stop trying. At first, they weren’t aware of the mistakes they were making. Now that they’ve got more awareness, they can focus on the mistakes they were making before but just didn’t notice. Try to keep your own expectations reasonable and to keep from adding to your kids’ frustration. Encourage them and let them know that the experience is part of getting better. If you worry, you’ll pass those feelings on to your kids. Instead, focus on providing support and trying new things, like games, that will strengthen what your kids have already gotten and spur them on to try new things.

If the plateau lasts more than two weeks, consult your kids’ swimming teacher, ask for help, and consider adding two or three private lessons in one week. (If that’s daunting, get the book and try some lessons on your own.)

Help your kids learn by reinforcing their swimming lessons on your own time.

Even if you don’t have access to a pool, there’s a lot you can do to teach your kids to swim. Look at the category “on land” for a list of posts that include exercises for each swimming skill that you and your kids can do when you’re dry.

If you do have access to a pool, ask your kids’ swimming teacher for specific suggestions for exercises to work on outside of class, or use the posts on how to teach individual swimming skills for ideas. Don’t forget that just visualizing and talking with your kids about what they’ve learned gives their learning a big boost.

Get some insights into how your kids’ minds and bodies influence how they learn and how they experience the water.

Kids’ minds, bodies, and feelings aren’t the same as grownups’. It’s possible that you’re expecting something from your kids that they’re not developmentally ready for. It’s possible that you or your kids’ swimming teachers are sending signals that are making it harder for your kids to learn. Check out these posts for detailed information about how kids learn and experience the water:

Make it fun.

Take it slow. Enjoy each other. Have fun. If you don’t enjoy each other and have fun, not only is it going to be hard for you to teach your child to swim, but also you’re going to miss an opportunity for bonding and creating happy lifelong memories for you and your kids.

Remember your priorities: safety and fun. If you’re worried about your kids’ progress, you’re not having fun. If you’re not having fun, your kids aren’t having fun. If they’re not having fun, they won’t want to keep getting in the pool. Smile! Hug! Giggle! Relax into the process. Trust that your kids will learn to swim, if not today, then soon. Did I mention the fun?

How to Teach Your Kids to Swim

You’re doing your kids a great service by teaching them to swim. You’re helping to keep them safe and providing them with a skill they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives, either on its own or as a necessary part of the vast array of great water sports. What are you waiting for? Dive in!

Getting Your Head in the Right Place

Teaching your child to swim can be a celebration of your relationship, punctuated by fun, hugs and laughter. It can also be a miserable experience for both of you. It all depends on your expectations and on your approach. Before you even think about getting into the pool, you need to decide how to make sure your expectations and approach are designed to make sure the experience is a joyful and productive one.

You don’t have to be perfect at this to have a great time with your child while you’re teaching him to swim. Like any skill, teaching will get easier the more you do it. Remember to keep your goals in mind:

  • Teaching your child to be water safe
  • Making it a fun and intuitive experience

Remember to be patient with yourself and your child. Trust yourself. You can do it. Use the lessons in this blog, and consider getting the book to give yourself every advantage when you’re teaching your kids to swim.


How to Teach the Front Crawl: Stage 1

The front crawl has to be the mother of all swimming skills. It’s the most efficient way to move your body on the surface of the water. It’s a complex stroke. Adults work for years to become proficient at it. Entire books have been written on it. Follow these steps to teach your kids the front crawl.

The parts of the crawl to focus on are arm movement, leg movement, torso movement, breathing, and timing and synchronization of movement.

The First Stage of Teaching the Front Crawl

By this point, your child has the advantage of having learned to put his head under water, to kick, to streamline his body position, and to breathe when he needs to. All of this is the foundation for starting to learn the front crawl. (If you haven’t taught your kids those foundation skills, do that first.)

Body Position

The work kicking in streamline position has prepared your child to keep his body horizontal and his head in line with the rest of his body while he swims. This is the necessary starting point for the crawl. If your child is still holding his body closer to vertical or mostly horizontal but with his head lifted up when he’s swimming, keep practicing the streamline position until that’s completely comfortable before you start to work on the crawl. It’s better to add more swimming lessons devoted to fundamental swimming skills than to stress everybody out by rushing ahead to learn the front crawl just because it’s so awesome.

Moving and Breathing

To start to teach the crawl, ask your child to pull one of his arms from streamline position through the water to his thigh. Have him return that arm to streamline position and then try the same thing with his other arm. Have him practice alternating his arms this way until he feels comfortable with it. He should continue to pop up to breathe during this early practice.

Initially, your child will probably move his arm through the water to return it to streamline position. That’s fine at this stage of learning.

Using Visualization

Have your child visualize reaching for something just beyond his grasp. Since kids tend to revert to dog paddle arms, with everything pulled close to their body, exaggerate the idea of keeping arms long for each stroke. Later, using a bent elbow to allow the arm to spend as little time out of the water as possible will be important. Early on, though, overcorrecting away from the dog paddle is helpful.

One Thing at a Time

At first, your child might have to concentrate so hard on moving his arms that he forgets to keep kicking. Don’t worry about this. After he’s gotten some experience moving his arms, gently remind him to kick. Work on this until your child is comfortable stroking with his arms and kicking continuously.


Don’t expect perfection at this stage. (Actually, don’t expect perfection ever—it’s all about having fun and keeping safe.) Just focus on helping your kids get comfortable while you’re teaching and they’re learning this swimming skill.