5 Tips for Teaching Your Toddler to SWIM!

When I was young, my mother made sure that my siblings and I knew how to swim. That we knew what to do if we got into trouble in the water. It was very important to her. You see, her dad and sister got into a horrible swimming accident when my mom was a little girl. That made knowing how to swim a top priority for her.

As a child, I loved to swim. I was a little fish. As a 14 year old, I became a certified lifeguard and learned even more reasons why I felt it was important for people to know how to swim — One very big one was how I had to jump in WAY too many times to save people who had absolutely zero idea how to swim and had no business being in the deep water in the first place.

As a 17 year old, I decided to try and make a difference in ^^ people’s lives by becoming a certified swim instructor. I started by teaching young kids – toddlers and under – the basics about swimming. I fell in LOVE with teaching {which was the beginning of my career as a grade school teacher}. Teaching the toddlers to swim was so rewarding. I had a blast playing games with them and it was SO neat to watch the kids learn to be successful swimmers. I knew I was teaching them a skill that could potentially save their lives + I was teaching them a skill that they were going to use for the remainder of their time here on earth.

Although I primarily taught toddlers, I did have the occasional adult class. Can I just tell you how big of a DIFFERENCE it is going from teaching toddlers to teaching adults?? The fear factor has multiplied by 100. Adults can see the dangers lurking under the surface of the waters for those who do not know how to swim. Adults can visualize simply putting their heads under and never being able to come back up. It is terrifying to an adult non-swimmer to try and swim.

Fast forward 7 years – I already see why knowing how to swim is so crucial. But now, I have two babies of my own… One 20 month old + one 3 month old. Learning to swim has taken on an entire new meaning. The importance is more crucial than ever to me. I do not want to have to worry about their swimming when they are 7… and I do not want to imagine them trying to learn how to swim as an adult. It’s time. They must learn now.

Now is the time that I must collect all that I know from those many years of teaching swimming lessons in the past and apply it to those who I love most. My own children.

FIVE Tips for teaching your TODDLER to swim!!!

As I was collecting my thoughts about ways to teach my babies to swim, I came up with 5 things all parents can do can do – before swim lessons even start – to help your baby become a swimmer. These are ways that you can assist your child with the basics of swimming prior to having official lessons. Things that you can practice in  your neighborhood pool or in the bath tub.

1. “Dunk” Your Child.

Kids hate this. Parents used to get SO mad at me when I would dunk their toddler at swim lessons. Their child would cry these horribly agonizing, pitiful tears while screaming “NOOO NOOO NOOOO MMMAAAAMMMMMMAAAAAAAAA!!!!”. I would warn the parents that I was going to put their child under water just for a moment and that they would be just fine. The kid would scream “NOOOOO” as I counted to three and then boom. I would dunk them. For no more than a second. New swimmers would come up coughing and gagging — but they were just fine.

I’m not talking about putting them underwater and holding them there. {PLEASE – don’t do that.} But, there is nothing about putting your child briefly under the water that is going to hurt them. It is going to teach them that they HAVE to hold their breath when they go under.

Having your child realize that going underwater will not hurt them is the best way to get them excited about learning how to swim on their own.

Here’s my tip for toddlers: Tell your child that they are going to go underwater on three {cue the screaming}. Tell them that they need to take a big breath on three and hold it while they go under water. Count, “One, Two, Three”! Quickly dunk them underwater – ALL THE WAY. Do not try to make it less terrifying by only putting part of their face under. They need to go all the way under water.

Here’s my tip for babies/infants: I have not dunked my 3 month old yet. Instead, I lay him on his back and get the entire backside of his head wet. He tenses up during this time but the more I do it the more comfortable he gets with having his head {partially} submerged in the water.

FIVE TIps for teaching your TODDLER to Swim!

2. Give your child swim time {with you} in the pool without the floatation devices.

I have seriously mixed emotions about floatation devices. If a child is going to be in the deep area (with adults) then I say go for it. ESPECIALLY if it is somewhere like a lake or the ocean. However, when there is just leisure play time at the local pool I say DITCH the floaties and spend time in the water without it. Obviously, you’re going to have to get in and assist. Although it may take a little time, this will make a giant difference in your child’s confidence in the water and will help him/her better know how to maneuver around in the water.

Just a sidebar from a former lifeguard – your child needs just as much supervision with floaties on as he/she does without them. Many times children who are brand new to swimming will end up face down in the water – at the top because of the floatie – however, he/she may not know how to get his/her feet back underneath. I’m not saying to boycott floaties… just be careful!

FIVE Tips for teaching your toddler to swim!

3. Practice blowing bubbles.

It never ceased to amaze me how many kids were TERRIFIED about blowing bubbles. It is also very common for kids to suck IN the air when trying to blow bubbles instead of blowing the air out. However, learning to blow bubbles is a crucial and important way to get kids more confident in the water and on their way to swimming around.

Here’s my tip for toddlers: Hold your pointer finger in the air. Tell your toddler to pretend that your finger is a birthday candle. Ask him/her to blow out the candle. Repeat this over and over, each time getting the “birthday candle” further and further under water. Continue this until your child blows bubbles in the water while “blowing out his/her birthday candle”.


Kicking is so crucial to being a successful swimmer. Kids + adults both need to know how to maneuver their kicks in all positions while swimming.

Here’s my tip for toddlers:  For the first time ever, you may want to sit the toddler on the side of the pool with his/her feet dangling in the water. Have the toddler make huge splashes from the side of the pool. For kids JUST LEARNING how to swim, the splashes that comes from this is sometimes too much. But don’t give up! Then, take the toddler into the water. Start with them kicking on their back. Bend your knees to get on to the toddler’s level in the water – where both of your heads are the only thing out of the water. Turn the toddler on his/her back and put his/her head on your shoulder. At first, you will probably want to have both hands on the toddler’s back for support – so that he/she doesn’t get too scared. Then, you can maneuver your hands to help the toddler kick. Once the toddler understand what it means to kick in the water, he/she will be able to do it on cue and without as much assistance or prompting.

Here’s my tip for babies/infants: Obviously, my three month old isn’t going to understand what it means to kick on cue. So, I simply hold him upright in the water via under his arms. I make sure his head is the only thing outside of the water. Naturally, he is going to move his legs around… essentially kicking. I also put him in the various kicking positions just to get him comfortable in the water.

5. Dig in the water.

Along with kicking, moving your arms is essential in swimming. Both need to work together to keep your head above the water.

Here’s my tip for toddlers: You may want to use some shovel beach toys to begin. Sit the child on the stairs or in the baby pool. Show them what it looks like to use the shovels to dig in the water – reaching forward and pulling his/her hands back. Let the toddler play for a while like this to understand the concept. During this play time, show the toddler what it looks like to pretend that his/her hands are a shovel. Then, take the toddler to the big pool and have him/her practice using their shovels {hands} to dig in the water. This will get the toddler ready for using his/her arms while swimming.

{Brooklynn (20 months old) now knows exactly what to do in the water now – so we don’t use the script from below quite as much anymore.}

Once you’ve gotten your child comfortable with these five skills, then it’s time to put it to work! Here’s what I do: I sit Brooklynn on my leg and tell her she’s going to swim to the side, to someone else, or the steps. I hold her arms and start moving them like she’s digging.  I count to three. Between two and three I say “Make sure you kick!”. Then, I push her forward and let go. The first few times she didn’t understand what to do. She swallowed a LOT of water and cried a few times. This is totally normal. Don’t give up! Eventually, they will be obsessed with swimming and want to swim with you all the time! ”’

Please remember that learning  to swim is a process and it will take MULTIPLE trips to the pool (sometimes multiple summers, depending on the child) to start to be an independent swimmer!

How did these tips work for you?



  1. Aimee says:

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing! I recently just entered my toddler in swim lessons and after the instructor dunked her for about 2 seconds I was not upset but rather fearful that she took in water or aspirated or something.She only sputtered for a couple seconds when coming up and wasn’t upset, just a little shocked! After reading your experience with swimming with babes I am assured that she is just fine and we will continue to practice underwater dunks and swims!

  2. Rachelle Reeves says:

    Thanks for the tips! I plan on teaching my kids to swim because I want them to be safe when enjoying the pool. My little sister is 6 and still too scared to swim. Do you have any suggestions to help older kids get over their fear?

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