How To Safely Prepare Your Toddler (And Yourself) For The Swimming Pool

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Summer will be here before you know it. And as the temperatures rise, the water and a chance for a little fun-in-the-sun beckons. Of course, having a toddler throws a whole new twist on getting ready for swim season. 

Just like learning their ABCs, learning swim basics are extremely important for children so that they’re both comfortable and safe around the pool. In addition to confidence and a healthy respect for the water, swimming will also help them develop motor and cognitive skills, aid in muscle development and help them with their overall coordination and balance.

And let’s not forget the very important benefit that it can also help your toddler sleep better!

Swim lessons are a great way to introduce your child to the pool for the first time in a fun and safe environment. But even with a swim pro to help you with baby’s first doggie paddle, both you and your child might feel a little nervous.

To smooth the way to your child’s first lesson, whether it be from you or an instructor, we’ve put together a few tips on how to prepare your toddler for the swimming pool. Later, we’ll also cover off some important safety tips.

But before we dive any deeper, let’s wade into the swim arena with some pre-pool preparation.

Rub-a-Dub Fun

The most natural place to prepare your toddler for the swimming pool is in the bathtub. When bath time turns into playtime, your little guppy will start to feel at ease when they’re in the water. So throw in a rubber duckie and let your toddler do some splashing. 

It will definitely ease the way when you transition into the pool. In addition to playing with bath toys, there are a few other things to try when you’re in the tub.

The Water Pour

To get your little one ready for swim lessons, it’s important that they get used to having water on their head and face. You can start by trickling just a few drops on top of their head. Make sure your child always knows what’s coming so they won’t be startled. 

You can turn it into a bit of a game by counting to three and then sprinkling the drops. Be sure to celebrate and clap your hands after each round to make it more fun.

Once your toddler is used to drops falling on top of their head, you can slowly increase the amount of water so that a little bit runs down their face. The trick is to go slowly and not use too much water too soon.

Increase the amount of water up to a cup, and be sure to praise your child and celebrate when they get comfortable with having water on their head and face. 

Blowing Bubbles

Once your toddler is at ease with having water on their head and face, you can take the next step and start blowing bubbles. This will get them used to having their face underwater.

Show the baby how to do it by getting your own face close to the water and blow bubbles on the surface. Then let them give it a try. 

Again, it should always be fun, so never try to force the process. If your toddler doesn’t feel comfortable at first, you can let them use a straw to blow the bubbles. Over time, they’ll learn to take a deep breath and blow bubbles with their mouth. 

Again, be sure to clap and celebrate when your toddler is successful. 

The Back Float

Another thing you can do in the tub is teach your child to float on their back. This will prepare the way for floating in the pool and make it seem less scary.

You can place your hand under your toddler’s back to begin with and help them to gently relax backward. The water should cover their ears but leave their face above the water.

Again, this is a process you can’t rush. Never force your child to lay on their back until they’re comfortable. And as with the other exercises, clapping, smiling and celebrating will help the process along. 

And, of course, be sure that your child is always closely supervised. No matter how comfortable they get with the water, a tub can still be a dangerous place for a little one when left unattended. 

Here’s a helpful video to show you how to blow bubbles and float, as well as a few other skills that can be practiced in the tub.

Preparing for Swim Lessons

All of the above exercises will be helpful to prepare your toddler for the swimming pool. But if you’re going to take your child to formal swim lessons, we have a few extra trips to make sure their entry into their group class is successful.

Tell Your Child What Will Happen at Their Lesson

New experiences can be scary to children, especially if they have no idea of what to expect. To help lessen their fear of the unknown, describe what will happen during their swim lesson. You can talk to the facility beforehand to get details for yourself.

That way, your child will know what’s coming instead of filling in the blanks with their imagination which can sometimes be frightening.

Visit the Pool 

Before signing your child up for lessons, you’ll want to visit the pool on your own to ask questions, observe a class and verify that the swim instructors are experienced and CPR trained. 

You’ll also want to confirm what the lessons include. In addition to fun activities, look for a class that teaches kids good water safety practices (like what to do in case they accidentally fall in the pool). 

It also helps to take your child to the facility a few days before their lessons begin so they can get familiar with the pool and its surroundings. Be sure to go during class hours so that they can see other children having fun as they learn to swim. 

This should give them a little extra boost of confidence.

Meet the Instructor

Most swim instructors have a lot of experience in getting kids to feel less nervous about swimming. Introducing your child to their teacher beforehand will also take away some fear of the unknown and help them feel more comfortable.

Then when your child arrives for their lesson, their teacher will already be a familiar, friendly face instead of a total stranger. 

Stay Calm 

Parents, as well as kids, can sometimes get nervous about swim lessons. Just remember that kids often pick up on your nonverbal cues. 

If you stay calm, it will help put your child at ease and give them a sense of confidence. And if it’s a class in which parents don’t enter the pool, be sure to let your child know you’re nearby and will be watching them the whole time. 

Get Your Toddler Used to Their Swim Diaper

Mom holding young son with swim diapers in a swimming pool

Even if your child is already potty trained, many facilities require your child to wear a swim diaper in addition to a bathing suit. And the last thing you want is a meltdown about putting on a diaper at the pool.

To make the process smoother, get your toddler used to their swim diaper and bathing suit by letting them wear it in the bathtub. You can also let them know that all the other children will be wearing a swim diaper too.

And if it’s possible, get your toddler dressed at home to avoid any speed bumps in the locker room. 

Bring Snacks

Swim classes for toddlers will probably only last about 30 minutes, but your child will probably be tired and hungry after their big adventure. And the last thing you want to deal with is a hangry toddler!

Bring a few portable snacks along. It will keep your kid happy and will also keep them occupied in case you took part in the class and need to change back into your street clothes afterward. 

Swimming on Your Own with Your Toddler

Even if you don’t sign your child up for swim classes, the above bathtub exercises will help your toddler feel more comfortable in the water. But again, even if your child is at ease, they should never be left unsupervised in the tub, pool or any other body of water, even for a minute.

Unfortunately, accidental drowning is the number one cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 4. That’s why it’s vital to practice good water safety and be extra vigilant when swimming or playing in or near water with your child.

Here are a few safety tips that will help minimize accidents and help you get the most enjoyment out of swimming with your toddler.

Use Touch Supervision

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends staying within arm’s distance of your child and providing constant “touch supervision.” When it’s swim time, be sure that you are always in the water with your toddler. And never leave your child unattended in a pool or any other body of water, even if there is a lifeguard present. 

Cut Out Distractions

Children can drown even in very shallow water within a minute and often do so with no noise or splashing. Again, always enter the water WITH your toddler. But even if your child is simply playing near the pool, it’s important to stay alert at all times.

This means putting your cell phone away and resisting the temptation to answer calls or texts. Many accidental drownings occur when lots of adults are around, and a parent assumes that someone else is watching their child. That’s why it’s so important to keep a constant eye on your child even if they’re not swimming at the moment.

Don’t Trust Flotation Devices

Young girl with floatie around her waist

Many parents use flotation devices to introduce their children to the water and help them to get comfortable. But toys like noodles and rafts won’t prevent drowning and can give parents and kids a false sense of security. 

So even if your child has a flotation device or is wearing a life jacket, be sure to pay constant attention to what’s going on when your child is in or near the water.

Learn CPR

It’s also a good idea for parents and caregivers to be certified in CPR and lifesaving skills. You can check with your local YMCA or the Red Cross for certification courses.

Watch for Signs of Trouble after Swimming

One of the scariest things about drowning is that it can happen on dry land AFTER your child has had a near-drowning experience because of water that’s still in their lungs. 

If your child has a persistent cough, trouble breathing or isn’t acting like themselves after swimming, be sure to seek immediate medical attention. 

Prevent Sunburn 

Young boy playing on his belly in the water with a swim shirt on

A toddler’s skin is much more delicate than an adult’s, so be sure to protect your child from the sun. If you can, avoid swimming at midday when the sun is at its strongest. And always use sunscreen on your child along with a swim hat and sunglasses if possible.

To be sure that sunblock is effective, it should be applied before you leave for the pool or beach and not when you’re about to enter the water. It also needs to be reapplied every two hours and after swimming.

Of course, getting sunscreen on a wriggly toddler may be a pretty big challenge under the best of circumstances. That’s why it’s a good idea to get your toddler a swimming shirt (also known as a rash guard) that comes with long sleeves and sun protection built into the fabric. 

It could save you a lot of toddler meltdowns when they’re not in the mood to get zinc oxide spread all over their little body. 

Splish Splash

Getting your child comfortable around water will help build their confidence and make spending time in the pool or other bodies of water much more enjoyable. Pre-pool exercises that you can practice in the tub as well as formal swim lessons can help to put your toddler at ease. They will also give them lifelong skills and a healthy respect for the water.

But even if your child turns out to be a little guppy, remember that no class or safety skills they learn can drown-proof them or replace adult supervision. Always be sure to monitor your child closely whether they’re in or near the water at all times.

With the right training and close supervision, you and your toddler can enjoy the water together while preventing unnecessary accidents. Here’s wishing you a fun and safe swim season with your kids!

Sherry De Alba

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