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An underwater image of a child swimming.

A 5-Point Checklist of Swimming Milestones for Nervous Tots ... (& Their Parents)

06/18/2014, 6:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

Stay safe in the water this summer.


I’d challenge any parent to deny the emotions that creep up when their 4 year-old treaded water for the first time on their own. 

So, while watching your little guy or gal try to imitate a sea-savvy dolphin is a rewarding milestone, it’s probably equally as stressful for both parent and child alike. This stress is natural, however, and presents a unique opportunity to build confidence and trust in your child.

Here are 5 swimming hurdles to check off with your 3, 4 or 5 year-old in the water this summer. 

1. Breathing Properly

For this step, a little creativity in your demonstrations will go a long way. Personally, I’m all about dinosaurs, so get your best T-Rex impression ready, breathe in a huge breath, dunk your head and roar as loud as you can under the water, blowing as many bubbles as possible.

This is the time your child will learn the major difference between water and air, so make sure the lesson sinks in before moving on.

2. Submerging

It might not seem like a big deal to your 6 year-old, but think about it for a second: being completely submerged for the first time is a frightening prospect for a toddler. 

Once they've got a handle on breathing with their heads above water, slowly teach them to breathe out under the water.

  1. Start in waist-high water
  2. Splash water on your face
  3. Kneel or sit and repeat
  4. Use a countdown and dunk your head under the water

Watching mom or dad underwater for a couple seconds will go a long way to easing a child's anxiety. 

Remember: only children over the age of 3 should be completely submerged under water. Swallowing water can be harmful in several ways to kids under 3 years old.

3. Enjoying the Water

Once you’re feeling comfortable with the water, the rogue splashes of other kids and the always-present potential of being submerged, it’s time to relax and have some fun! It’s important for children at this age to respect the pool, the lake or the ocean while enjoying it at the same time. 

Playing games, throwing toys around and splashing around with arms and legs is an immediate precursor to proper swimming technique, so take your time with this step. As long as your child trusts you’ll hold onto them no matter what, they’ll automatically learn about the differences between water resistance and air resistance.  

4. Assisted Water Treading

Once you’re both up for it, it’s time to introduce floating and treading water. This is the most important step for trust-building, so make sure to remain patient and supportive.

It’s easy to teach the basics of treading in shallow water, but this is also the point where swimming lessons become crucial. 

Certified swimming instructors know how to properly teach techniques that require toddlers to swim on their own. Parents are normally welcome to join these first few lessons so they can repeat key messages at the lake later on.

5. Safety

No matter what stage your tot is at, water safety is the most important rule of all. Never assume your child is ready for independence regardless of what they say. The catch-22 of building trust in the early years of swimming is that your child could develop an over-abundance of comfort in the water. 

Check out this handy guide from Kortney Eidam for teaching swimming lessons at 6 years-old and up. 

Wherever you head for summer vacation, confidence in the water is important for both swimmer and parent. Learning to respect the basics of swimming before any actual techniques are introduced is an important bonding experience for toddlers.

And don’t worry. Soon you’ll be teaching them to drive and none of this will seem stressful at all.

Ready for swimming lessons?

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photo credit: Hani Amir via photopin cc

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Tag(s): Home  Aquatics  NSWC Marlins Swim Team