30 Swimming Tips for Kids at Every Age
When the weather turns warm in the summer, people often flock to the water to cool off and enjoy the long, sunny days. With so many happy memories for children being associated with pools, lakes, rivers and beaches, it’s vital that parents understand the basics of teaching their children how to swim.
Even knowing a few simple skills can make all the difference for a kid in a life-threatening situation. Plus, the more comfortable and confident your child is in the water, the more everyone can relax and have fun anytime you’re around it.
Here are 30 swimming tips for children of all ages to hopefully help everyone enjoy themselves this summer.
6 to 24 Months: Start in the Bathtub
The best place to start getting your little one comfortable in the water is during your regular bath routine. Take a few extra minutes during bathtime to splish and splash while giggling, so your child begins to feel more comfortable in the water.
Of course, at this young age, you should never leave them unattended — even for a moment and even in just a few inches of water. But you can use the time you’ve already set aside for a bath to start making positive associations with water.
* Keep in mind, these are only a handful of tips. Playing in water can be really dangerous and requires a lot of parental involvement in order to ensure safety. Every child is different, and every situation is different. Always seek lessons and advice from professionals before ever assuming your child is ready for water activities.
6 to 24 Months: Introduce Them Slowly
Whenever you decide to introduce your child to water outside of the tub, be sure to do it slowly. Don’t expect them to immediately love swimming the first time they encounter a pool. Babies are already processing a lot of information about how to live and survive in the world outside of the water. Seeing the water and feeling it may be a lot for them.
Start by maybe going to a kiddie pool and putting them in it. Slowly move your way up to carrying them with you into shallow parts of the larger pool. Do so when you’re able to completely focus on them and their safety. And be ready to take them out (and wrap them in a warm towel!) if they become too fussy or uncomfortable.
6 to 24 Months: Be Patient
Babies can be moody and don’t learn linearly. Some days they may love the water. Other days they may hate it. Just because they were able to do one skill one day doesn’t mean they’ll always remember how to do it every time they’re in the water.
Sometimes, even just changing up the swim instructor can be enough to make a child suddenly meltdown. So, always be patient and do your best to continue to make being in the water a happy and playful place.
6 to 24 Months: Be Careful About Submerging
There are various schools of thought when it comes to what age it’s safe to submerge your child under water. The overall takeaway that seems to be true in all the discussions is that you should never overdo it. There are ways to submerge young children for a second or two safely, like doing so as you pull them backwards so the water floats around their face rather than directly on it.
But if you do eventually begin submerging your child, make sure to keep their face down so they can spit out as much water as they might take in. And don’t ever, ever overdo it. If you feel like your child has taken in a lot of water during a swim lesson, make sure to monitor them for any physical changes (like trouble breathing) or emotional changes (like sudden exhaustion). Talk to a doctor if your intuition tells you something might be off.
6 to 24 Months: Master the Backfloat
One of the basic early techniques any swim teacher will focus on is the art of the backfloat. That relaxing and supposedly easy swimming move isn’t always a walk in the park. Kids can sometimes feel nervous being forced on their back, unable to see their caregiver. And the act of putting their ears under water (which you eventually work up to), can be unnerving for children.
Be patient as your little one adjusts to what it feels like to float in the water. And always reward them with lots of snuggles and hugs whenever they try something new.
6 to 24 Months: Swim as Much as Possible
Like any skill, getting comfortable in the water means being consistent in the water. Depending on where you live, it may not be possible to swim outside year-round.
But if you can enroll in local indoor swimming classes in the colder months, maintaining a routine can do wonders for learning.
2 to 3 Years: Keep Up Telling Them to Keep It Up!
Young children can be easily discouraged, especially if something doesn’t have immediate, tangible benefits. If they are consistently having trouble learning certain skills or getting frustrated or scared during the same parts of a swimming lesson, make sure to give them extra encouragement so they can push through.
Knowing how to swim is a basic survival skill, so it’s important that they keep at it. And whenever they push through a fear, make sure to validate and support them with lots of affection and praise.
2 to 3 Years: Set Little Goals
Setting small goals for your child not only helps them to be motivated, but it helps them learn the beauty of goals at a young age. Make sure the goals are tangible for a toddler, like “We try to backfloat for five seconds” or “We push off the pool wall together three times.”
Something that’s age and skill-level appropriate makes for a great goal. When in doubt, ask an instructor. And make sure to be the most excited parent ever when they achieve their goals (before moving onto the next).
2 to 3 Years: Toys Are Great Movement Motivation
Learning to glide in the pool and feel comfortable reaching forward is really helpful for little ones learning to swim. If you’re with them in the pool, they may have no desire to do anything but hold onto you tightly.
If you want to encourage them to feel comfortable reaching with one or both hands forward, maybe find some fun and colorful pool toys that they can reach towards. And always make sure to help them actually reach them so they feel a sense of accomplishment. Plus, having fun toys will reinforce that the pool is a fun place to be.
2 to 3 Years: Teach Your Child to Always Ask Permission
By the time they’re a toddler, your child should be able to communicate with you — even if just minimally. Make sure you tell them that they always need to come up and ask your permission before ever even getting near the water.
Use baby sign language if they’re not yet verbal so you can decipher if and when their fast little toddler legs might want to speed towards the water. Setting up these boundaries early is really important for your child’s safety (and your mental well-being).
2 to 3 Years: Get a Kick Out of Those Kicks
Once you’ve got the backfloat down, get to kicking! Learning to kick will help your child be able to keep themselves afloat throughout the rest of their life. And it will also help them work out some of their (seemingly tireless) energy through kicking around in the water.
You may have to move their feet for them at first. But it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re kicking like crazy!
2 to 3 Years: Practice Water Skills on Land
If you don’t have access to a pool regularly, you can work on some of the same skills you learned in the water on land. Kicking and laying on their back with you holding them under their head are easy enough to do on land.
If you start setting up physical and verbal cues, they’ll be even more ready the next time you get into the water.
4 to 5 Years: Confidence Doesn’t Mean Complete Safety
By this age, your child may have already had a few years of swimming lessons. But just because they’re more comfortable in the water and able to hold their own a bit doesn’t mean that you can let up on your supervision. In fact, the little bit of confidence they may have might make you too comfortable leaving them alone for short periods of time.
And it might make them believe that they’re stronger swimmers than they are. So, maintain vigilance in your oversight and keep eyes on your water-loving kiddo all the time.
4 to 5 Years: Floatation Toys Are for Playing, Not Supervision
Sometimes, parents can falsely think that putting your child in a floatation device means the child is safer in the water — especially a child that can swim in case they get out of it. That is not the case.
The only floatation device you can have any trust in when it comes to water safety is a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. All other floatation devices, especially toys, just provide a false sense of security.
4 to 5 Years: Take Out All Toys
Though they make great motivation for teaching children to swim and are a blast to have in the water while splashing around, toys should always be taken out of the pool when nobody is using it. It’s easy to forget when you have a million other things to do on a pool day. But this one safety act can make a major difference to a small child.
Kids often see a toy in a pool and go out to grab it without telling anyone. And even good swimmers can put themselves in precarious positions just to grab a toy. So, clear the pool out when you're done to provide you peace of mind.
4 to 5 Years: Keep Children Within Reaching Distance
Even with some formal lessons and independence in the water, always keep your children nearby when watching them. Sometimes, the signs of drowning aren’t as dramatic as flailing loudly in the water.
So, if you’re nearby and can get to them within seconds, you can make sure they stay safe in case something happens and you need to act quickly.
4 to 5 Years: Teach Children to Stay Away from Certain Pool Hazards
This is a great age to make sure your children know to stay away from various pool hazards. Suction outlets and pool drains are dangerous for little hands and feet.
Make sure they know to not only swim away but to stay away from them. And also keep electrical toys and items away from the pool area.
4 to 5 Years: Set Up Rules and Boundaries
Combine the energy young children have with the general life enthusiasm they naturally possess, then put all that into an excited pool setting … and you have the potential for a great time. But you also have the potential for pushing boundaries and skirting with some serious danger.
It’s vital as children start wanting to be in the pool that you set up clear rules like: Only be in the pool with an adult, you have to ask permission to swim, no swimming after dark, etc.
6 to 10 Years: No Running, Pushing or Dunking
By this age, children probably have some sense of the boundaries when it comes to when they can be in the pool. Now they need to learn some basic safety etiquette. There is plenty of fun to be had in a pool swimming around and playing with fellow kids.
But that also means no running outside of the pool area. They should not be pushing each other into the pool. And no dunking each other in the water either. This is especially important when you start playing with other children of different sizes and swimming confidence levels.
6 to 10 Years: Don’t Chew or Eat in the Water
Save the snacks and meals for after a nice swimming session, not before and especially not during. Chewing and eating in the water can cause choking or issues with basic breathing.
This includes even seemingly innocent pieces of gum. They should be enjoyed out of the water, then spit out before anyone gets back in the pool.
6 to 10 Years: Keep Pool Gates Closed and Locked
If you have a pool or access to one, you have to make it difficult for children to get to it. Otherwise, rambunctious little ones who have only recently gained confidence in the water could decide to test out a solo splash adventure without adult supervision.
The simplest way to prevent this from happening is to make sure there’s a closed-off pool ideally with an out-of-reach lock. Keep kids from the temptation for their own good.
6 to 10 Years: Shallow and Deep Differentiation
Understanding that different pools have different depths is really important. They may not yet be aware that different pools have different depths. Some pools are deeper than others with very little shallow water. Others are shallow all around. Others have a V shape that means they’re shallow on two sides, but deeper in the middle.
It’s important for kids to understand they need to know a pool’s depth before going in it so that they’re not getting in (literally) over the head.
6 to 10 Years: Always Have Lifesavers Available
Having a lifesaver to throw into both ends of the pool can make a huge difference in an emergency situation. It’s easy enough to make sure they’re always present. And it’s also worth training older children how to throw them in the pool in case someone is drowning.
Sometimes, having children be overconfident about how good of swimmers they are means that they might put themselves in an unnecessarily precarious position to help someone out. Having these lifesavers can give another option to help save a life.
6 to 10 Years: Beware of Overexertion
Kids aren’t always good judges of how to use their abundant energy. They might insist that they want to continue swimming long after their major energy is gone.
It’s fine to let a child wear themselves out in the water, but be aware that can affect their swimming abilities. Even something that should be simple can be difficult or sometimes impossible when their energy is completely depleted.
11 to 15 Years: Introduce New Bodies of Water Cautiously
At this point, kids are likely ready to start swimming in other bodies of water. They’ve done the work to get good at swimming and want to test out some of nature’s natural pools. Be sure to teach them to be cautious in every different water situation — beaches, rivers, ponds and lakes — because they all require totally different types of swimming.
Each place presents its own challenges and dangers. Encourage kids to wear protective foot gear and to always wade into a body of water slowly to get adjusted.
11 to 15 Years: Pay Attention to Hazards
With more independence and swimming abilities, kids may want to choose when they swim on their own. When they make that choice, they need to make the most informed decision possible, including any possible hazards in the pool or water and to be aware of upcoming weather conditions.
Even though it’s not “cool” to follow the rules, it’s incredibly important.
11 to 15 Years: Know How Deep the Water Is
Once there’s more confidence in the water, there’s also more confidence in how you get in the water. Make sure your preteen or teenager knows not to dive in a pool if it’s less than 12-feet deep. And they shouldn’t jump in at all if it’s less than 9 feet.
When it comes to the open water, they should be really careful to jump in at all without knowing if there’s jagged rocks or other hazards they could land on.
11 to 15 Years: Use the Buddy System
Make sure kids go out swimming in at least pairs. And that those pairs are both strong swimmers who know some safety basics in case something happens. That way, they can keep eyes on each other and keep each other safe.
Not swimming too far away from your buddy is important, too. Exploring the water is more fun with friends, anyway.
11 to 15 Years: Drink Plenty of (Not Pool!) Water
Just because you’re splashing around water all day doesn’t mean you’re staying hydrated. Make sure your kid knows how important it is to stay hydrated. And that if it gets too hot outside (or too cold in the water), their swimming ability can be affected.
While they’re at it, make sure they lather up on the sunscreen — just don’t get the sunscreen bottle and the water bottle mixed up!
11 to 15 Years: Wear a Life Jacket During All Water Sport Activities
Even the best swimmers should wear a life jacket when doing water sports and activities. This is especially important in shared, open water settings.
Plenty of things can happen in the normal course of a fun day outside that can impair your ability to swim properly. Don’t rely only on your ability to kick or that you’ve mastered the backfloat (back when you were a baby!).