Swimming is not only an essential life skill, but can also be a great activity for parents to share with their kids.
Although starting the process can be slightly daunting, teaching your youngster is the perfect opportunity to bond and build up trust. Once you’re ready to take the plunge, remember that swimming is meant to be fun. In fact, the more enjoyable and interactive you can make the experience, the quicker they’ll learn; so, laughing, smiling and playing are all very much encouraged!
A duck to water
Some kids are simply born to swim, morphing into a fish as soon as they step off the beach – but this certainly isn’t the case for everyone.
Take it slow and spend some time building up your little one’s confidence in the water. This can start in the bath or by using a paddling pool in the back garden – depending on the weather, of course!
|“Early exposure to water will not only encourage a desire to swim but will reduce the chances of a child developing a fear of water.”
It’s vital for you to put yourself in their shoes at this stage, getting to grips with their feelings, motivations and physical limitations – try to think back to how scary these moments were for you. Once your child is comfortable with being in the water, you can then move on to teaching them the basics.
Riding a bike
Although most consider floating as the next step to swimming independently, it might be better and safer to get them treading water first.
To start with – partly due to their shape – your little one will be about as buoyant as a block of cement, which can be a pretty demoralising start to the process. Instead, ask them to dig holes with their hands and ride a bike with their legs, grabbing you for support whenever needed. This is a more natural motion and should be far easier to pick up.
|“Swimming is great all-round exercise and your little one will benefit from strength, co-ordination and cardiovascular exercises. Be prepared for them to want food after the class as they’ll have burnt a lot of energy!”
Once you do move on to floating, rings and armbands are ideal for small children, helping them feel secure while getting used to the water moving around them. However, try to make sure they don’t become completely dependent on these aids.
Before introducing your child to the different swimming techniques, it’s useful to teach them how to do a strong kick.
You can play a game of splashing each other, by holding on to the side of the pool and kicking water at each other, until they get the hang of it (and win the game, of course!)
It’s also a good idea to get them practicing their kicking on dry land; creative games outside of the pool can help increase both their rhythm and confidence – just make sure you’re standing well clear of any flailing limbs!
Easy does the trick
Front crawl is one of the easiest strokes for your child to master. Get them to float on their tummy in the water, then rotate their arms like a windmill and use those kicking skills to propel themselves along.
Backstroke is the next logical step, involving similar movements. Bear in mind that this reversal can be frightening for some children, so it’s best to wait until they’re fully confident in the water before attempting this stroke.
|“A swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child aged under four. Never leave your child unattended near water and remain vigilant at all times.”
Once they’re beginning to grow fins of their own, you can steadily introduce some of the more complex strokes, including breaststroke and butterfly. Ensure your expectations aren’t too high and you only move on to the next stage when they’re ready.
Step by step
If you’re not completely confident with teaching your child to swim by yourself, most public pools hold swimming classes of varying levels. Water Babies take children from birth, and cover around 85% of the UK, so they’re bound to have classes near you. For something more comprehensive, the 10-stage ASA Learn to Swim programme is also worth a look. Whatever you decide, expert lessons can always be built upon by your instruction at home and make sure you don’t ignore some of the great online resources.
If you have the time, practicing a couple of times a week is a great way to make sure your child is continuously getting better, not to mention keeping you fit. Blink and you’ll soon have a little water baby on your hands!