Teaching a Toddler to Swim

Swimming lessons are now recommended for toddlers age 1 to 3, according to a statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2010. Early instruction may help prevent drowning in young children, the second leading cause of death in youth under 19 years of age. When you begin teaching your child to swim, remember to have realistic expectations.

Most young children have not yet developed the motor skills required for strong swimming skills. Concentrate instead on games that emphasize water enjoyment and skills that would help increase survival in an emergency situation.

Water Play

Start in shallow water, preferably at a level where your child can stand and sit with his head above water. You always want to start playing games in order to emphasize fun, states the University of Florida Interactive Media Lab.

Sing songs and teach your child to splash and blow bubbles.

Sit your child on the side of the pool and teach her to kick her feet on the surface of the water.

Hold your child under the armpits in chest-deep water and play Motorboat. Walk backward in a circle and encourage him to blow bubbles and kick his feet.

Place dive toys on the ground in shallow water and encourage your child to pick them up. Instruct her to blow bubbles at the surface of the water while she bends to retrieve the objects, suggests the University of Florida Interactive Media Lab.

Hold your child under the armpits in chest-deep water and instruct him to take a breath and hold it on the count of three. At three, submerge both yourself and your child under water. When you come up, encourage strongly, "Oh my gosh, you did so good, I'm so proud of you. You did it!"

Safety Skills

Child in a swimming pool

Activities to Teach Water Safety to Preschoolers

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Teach a belly float, or a "starfish"; Support your child's belly and thighs with your arms stretched in front of you, your child facing you. Encourage her to stretch out her arms and legs to the sides like a starfish, and when she's ready, she should blow bubbles in the water. As she begins to feel comfortable, encourage her to submerge her face underwater for a second.

Support your child's back and thighs on your arms to teach the back float. Allow him to lean back and rest his head on your shoulders. Encourage him to look in your eyes and relax his neck.

Introduce the glide, or the "torpedo"; Instruct your child to place her hands over her head, and standing several feet away from another adult, push your child on the count of three toward the waiting adult. As she masters the glide, encourage her to kick while gliding.

Teach your child to roll over from a front float to a back float by turning the left arm and leg up into the air.

Sit your child on the side of the pool and help him jump in; by holding him under the armpits and pulling him into the water. As he grows comfortable with this skill, try it from a standing position. This can help a child to overcome a fear of falling in the water, according to the University of Florida Interactive Media Lab.

Teach you child how to tread water. Support your child from under his arms and tell him to move his arms like paddles and kick his legs up and down to keep himself up in the water. Hold onto him until he is ready to try treading on his own and even then, stay right beside him to assist him if he tires or has difficulty.


Whenever you spend time in the water with your child, make sure she wears a reusable swim diaper with elastic around the thighs and waist. This will protect other swimmers and the pool chemistry if she has an accident while in the water.

Always encourage with enthusiasm. Even with very scared children this often distracts them from their fear.

Use the kickboard and water noodle as tools to teach the skills. Teach them to hold onto the board or noodle instead of holding onto you when learning floating and kicking skills.


Teaching your child basic water safety skills does not guarantee safety around the water. Especially if your child determines she loves the water, she may be more attracted to swimming pools or bodies of water. Stay vigilant when near water with a young child in order to prevent drowning.

Submersion often scares children, but once they get used to the feeling, they begin to love it.