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How to teach kids to swim

Little ones love swimming – it’s comforting and fun! But it’s also essential that they learn to swim so they can be safe in a country packed with beaches and backyard pools. Here’s how to get started.

After spending nine months swimming and floating in the womb, it’s no surprise that babies and toddlers are quite content in the water. Introducing your toddler to the swimming pool will nurture and develop this water confidence and teach them the basics of swimming. A bonus: time in the water also enhances your child’s coordination.

Why it’s important to be able to swim

Sadly, the most common cause of death for children under the age of four is drowning in a home pool, so learning to swim early is a vital lifesaving skill for all little ones. However, don’t let those swimming lessons give you a false sense of security – even advanced swimming skills cannot ‘drown-proof’ a child of any age. Child safety should always been your first concern and children must always be closely supervised around water (even a terrific swimmer can slip and bang their head), plus all parents should complete a first aid course and know how to perform CPR if required. Pools must be safely fenced off (it’s a legal requirement) and you also need to have a CPR poster nearby.

Are floaties and back bubbles necessary?

There are lots of flotation devices on the market. None have been scientifically proven to be better than another in terms of enhancing swimming ability, but in terms of safety, there are a few things to be aware of:
  • Flotation devices don’t substitute for close (arm’s length) supervision by an adult. 
  • You must only use a bubble, water wings or floaties for the situation specified on the packaging (age, weight etc). If you have any doubt, ask the salesperson for the right device for your child. There have been a few safety recalls over the years but they've been rare and on the whole these are great products.

Protection from pool chemicals

Chemicals in public pools have come under criticism, however, most accidents with pool chemicals happen when they are stored incorrectly, rather than as a result of swimming. Some doctors have raised concerns that chemicals could be linked to asthma and eczema, so if your child gets eczema in a commercial pool, shower him immediately after swimming and apply plenty of moisturiser to his skin.

Swimming pools and germs

Of course, those pool chemicals play an important role: They protect people from germs. Babies almost always wee or poo in the pool because of the temperature change and because they tend to relax in the water. Viruses in wee and poo and can get passed to others if the chemical levels are too low to kill them off. One way that bugs spread in water is when a child swallows a bit of water (which is quite common).
With this in mind, don’t take your child to swimming lessons if they’re sick, and if you’re unsure whether they’re contagious or not, ask your GP. If you can afford waterproof nappies, they’re a better option than standard nappies because they absorb some of the wee, keep in the poo and they’re also less bulky for your child. If you take your healthy toddler to swim school and he seems to constantly get sick a couple of days after swimming lessons, the pool might not be clean enough – so it’s time to switch pools.

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