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Teaching your toddler to swim

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Real mum's tip


"I have been swimming with my children since they were six weeks old and they love the water. We practised strokes and going underwater in the bath!"

Wendy Stranger, mum to Jasmine, 4

Teaching your little one to swim can be great fun and really good exercise for both of you. But when do you start and how do you do it? We've got some tips that'll have your tot swimming like a fish in no time!

When to take the plunge

It's never too early to introduce children to water. However, a toddler will only really enjoy the experience if her pool sessions are short and sweet, the water is warm enough (around 29-30°C), she's fit and well, and in the right frame of mind – so not in need of food, drink or a nap.

The benefits of swimming

  • Water helps with muscle development, strengthens the heart and lungs, and improves co-ordination and fine motor skills
  • Swimming will relax your tot and improve her appetite
  • Your toddler will love your focused attention in the pool, so it's a great way to bond.

How to teach your toddler to swim

  • On your first few trips, choose a time when its not too busy; it'll be far more relaxing and you'll be able to fully focus on your tot.
  • Obviously when you're holding your baby in the water you should never be out of your depth but your local pool may have a separate parent and baby pool, or separate sessions for them.
  • To boost her confidence, hold her close, keep eye contact and talk to her and praise her the whole time.
  • Take a familiar bath toy to play with – splash it away and whoosh your tot through the water to get it back.
  • Teach her to blow bubbles in the water, this helps her to learn how not to inhale all the water!
  • Hold your toddler floating on her back and encourage her to kick the water.
  • And don't forget to use a swim nappy to prevent 'accidents'!

Baby Swim Foundation has more information and advice on swimming with babies and toddlers.

If your toddler is not keen on swimming

  • Make bathtime fun as a first step to being happy in water – get her used to having drops on her face.
  • Use toys to distract: rubber ducks, floats and balls are ideal.
  • Be positive and encouraging – try not to transfer any fears you may have.
  • If your little one's not up for swimming one day, try again another day.

Pool safety

Until your child is swimming confidently, you or a swimming teacher need to be within touching distance of your toddler. Never rely on inflatable toys or swimming aids as life preservers. Children can drown quietly in just a few minutes, even in very shallow water.

Toddler swimming bag checklist

  • Money for the locker
  • Swim nappies
  • Arm bands or float jacket*
  • Costume for you
  • Fully stocked changing bag
  • 2-3 towels
  • Toddler drink and snack for afterwards

*Never use swimming aids in place of close supervision

Swimming is a great way to bond; your toddler will love your focused attention!