EXPERT Q&A

At what age should I teach my child to swim?

Learning how to swim can provide an incredible source of fun and activity for kids while building lifelong skills. Discover how to help your child learn water safety skills from an early age.

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Question

Growing up, I never had swimming lessons and to this day, I don’t enjoy being in the water. I want my children to love water, build strong swimming skills, and learn how to be safe when in or near water. When should I start swimming lessons for my kids?

Answer

It’s true that children should learn about water at an early age. This can help foster lifesaving skills and drowning prevention for young children as well as instill a lifelong love for water activities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents enroll their children in swimming lessons when they feel it’s right for them. While every family is different, swimming lessons can begin as early as age one. Research has found that water survival skills for young children can reduce the risk of drawing for children between the ages of 1 and 4, making swimming lessons even more essential for families and children. That being said, swim lessons for infants have not been shown to reduce the risk of drowning.

Check your local community or recreational center for swimming lessons. This will create a healthy bonding experience for you and your children! As you explore swim opportunities for your family, here are several pointers to consider for children of different ages. Learn more here!

Infants and Toddlers: 6 Months to 2 Years

  • Your baby should be in your arms at all times, even if they are confident in the water. 
  • Don’t submerge a child under three years old on your own. They can swallow chemicals in the water, which can lead to nausea and, in some cases, seizures. Instead, it’s better to pour water on their heads or cradle their heads while they float on their back. In swim classes, the instructor knows how to submerge a baby safely so they don’t swallow water. 
  • Dress your kiddo in a swim diaper that prevents fecal matter from leaking into the pool. Many pools require this.
  • An infant can drown in as little as an inch of water in less than 30 seconds, so beware of all water hazards, including inflatable baby pools, buckets, toilets, and tubs.

Children Ages 3 to 4 Years

  • Even if your toddler is very comfortable in the water, they still need constant supervision. 
  • If you have your own pool, make sure your child cannot access the pool without supervision. For example, lock the pool gate, put a cover on the pool, etc.
  • Focus on basic pool safety, such as no running near the pool or no diving (for this age, no diving at all). Also, make sure your child understands they cannot go in the water without a trusted adult supervising them. 
  • Avoid water wings, air-filled swimsuits, and inflatable flotation toys. They give you and your child a false sense of security. If they deflate, your child will sink. They also don’t let your child build the arm muscles they need to be successful swimmers.  
  • Don’t leave toys in the pool after they get out. It makes the pool an enticing space that chidlren can be lured back to unsupervised. 

Children Ages 4 to 5 Years

  • Your child should always be within your reach while in the water. Even if they swim well on their own, it’s necessary to be close by. 
  • Be patient. This age often comes with a healthy fear of water. Your child might be a little fish one day but very fearful the next. Allow your child to be hesitant. Listening to your body is an essential and life-saving skill for a swimmer. 
  • Take your child from the shallow end to the deep end so they develop expectations for each end of the pool.
  • Never assume another adult is watching, even if a lifeguard is present.
  • If your child is fearful of putting their face under the water at this age, you can practice blowing bubbles in the bathtub. 
  • Talk to your child about what they should do if they fall into the pool unexpectedly. They should swim for the closest edge of the pool. If they cannot see it or are overwhelmed, tell them to float on their backs until they have calmed down and then swim to the side of the pool. Some kids will try to swim to a ladder. The closest edge is a better bet than a ladder.
  • Practice climbing out of the pool with your child. Starting with one elbow, then the other, the tummy, and then the knee.

Children Ages 6 and Older

  • Have an adult watch all water activities. Even a good swimmer can drown. No one should swim alone.
  • Make it a rule that your child can swim only when an adult is present and encourage them to always swim with a buddy.
  • Talk to your child about only diving when a trusted adult is around and in the deep end. 
  • Be extra vigilant at the beach or a lake. A kid’s swimming skills in a pool don’t necessarily translate to open water. In addition, there are other obstacles in open water your child may not be aware of. 

Recommended Resource

For more information about water safety, listen to the Chronicles of Nannya podcast episode here!

Meet The Expert


Martha Tyler

Martha has her Masters in Education and is a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. She has worked as a sitter, nanny, tutor, or teaching artist over the past 20+ years. In addition, Martha has hosted a child care podcast, Chronicles of Nannya, for several years. She is also the co-founder of Compassionate Childcare LLC and is thrilled to be able to share her experience, knowledge, and resources with CareNectar!