Water Safety for Infants & Toddlers

Water Safety for Infants & Toddlers

There is nothing cuter than infants and toddlers. They are curious which is partly why they are so cute. This makes them dangerous around water. You can never be too careful. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pool, bathtub, toilet, or even a bucket of water in the yard. You have to watch your kids around water regardless if they have had swimming lessons or not.

I get questions all the time about when to start a child in swimming lessons. How do you teach my baby or toddler to swim? What is the best philosophy? What about the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR)? How much should I invest trying to get a baby or toddler to swim on their own? These are all good questions that deserve a certain level of parent education to make the beset choice for your child and your pocketbook.

When should I start my child in swimming lessons?
Any safe and supervised interaction a child has with water is important. Start by making sure they get their eyes wet in the bathtub. Never encourage a negative reaction to getting water in their face. This includes infants as young as three months old. It should just be a part of every bathtime. No child will learn to swim without putting their face in the water. They can’t remain horizontal in the water unless their face is submerged. This is why floaties of any kind are the absolute worst thing you can do for your child. This teaches a child to avoid putting their face in the water and keeps them vertical (sinking position).

As a general rule, parents should have their child in swimming lessons by the age of three. Parent-tot classes are great as young as six months. It is a great activity to bond with your child and introduce them to the water as well. However, having your child in a parent-tot class isn’t nearly as important as making sure they are in a good swimming lesson program no later than the age of three years old.

What about the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR)?
This program has some very impressive videos online of fully dressed toddlers falling into a pool and rolling over and floating on their back until help arrives. This could be effective for this one particular skill. However, you should be aware of some of the drawbacks.

First off, no matter how many swimming lessons your child has had, you never know how they will react in water when panic sets in. I remember my daughter’s reaction at the age of 4 after having two years of continuous, weekly swimming lessons. She displayed the ability to swim back and forth across the pool in her lessons but during a swim party got overly excited and while in the middle of the pool panicked, went vertical in the water, and began to sink. We had to pull her out. Luckily, this was done before any serious injury occurred. Were her swimming lessons a waste of time and money up to that point? NO WAY. Knowing how to swim under normal circumstances and enjoying the water at the age of four was well worth the time and money. Now at the age of six she is a very strong and confident swimmer as opposed to a serious hazard to herself and others around any body of water.

While any swimming lesson is better than nothing, the main reservations I have about the ISR program is twofold. First, it is overpriced. Second, and more importantly, it teaches your child to do one thing and one thing only…roll on their back. It can work well for survival but as far as enjoyment in the water and swimming from A to B (part of the enjoyment of swimming) it is not recommended. Our program teaches a child to roll over, breathe, and then swim to the side of the pool and get out on their own, rather than floating in a passive position waiting to be rescued.

We have lots of parents that come to us to learn how to swim from A to B after dumping tons of money into ISR. We have to retrain their kids to actually swim. The other problem we see is children that hate swimming after ISR because they have been brow beaten into floating. I obviously have a strong opinion as a swim school owner but for the money and long term results, putting your child in lessons once or twice per week by the time they are three years old will yield the most success long term.

Most three year olds that attend our lessons once per week can swim independently within six months. That doesn’t mean they are “water safe”. No toddler or child is safe in the water without adult supervision. But our students can swim from A to B and roll to their back for a breath. They then graduate to our next level where they learn to be strong backyard swimmers.

Any way you slice it, the most valuable piece of advice I could give you is not to wait to have your child learn how to swim. A five year old that has never had lessons is much harder to teach than a three year old who hasn’t yet developed a fear of the water.

Budgets are tight, but this is an investment not only in your child’s safety, but also their future enjoyment in and around water that will last them a lifetime.