The ability to for babies to swim — “baby swimming” — and a sense of calm and ease in the water, is important for your kid. For one, it’ll prove life-saving on the off chance they become the chief of police for a New England island under siege by a huge great white shark. If that’s too farfetched, it might simply save their life. Fortunately, it’s not hard to teach them to swim. Baby kicking starts in the womb, after all. Think of the pool as a dive back in for them. They’ll be swimming in no time.
The scary fact is, 2 kids under the age of 14 drown in U.S. pools, lakes, or oceans every day. The obvious first line of defense is to teach your infant to swim. There are several techniques, but most agree — including a Navy SEAL who knows a thing or two about these things — that you should try to stay away from dependence on personal flotation devices. Yes, they’re as necessary as flippy floppies when you’re on a boat, but if relied upon during all pool, lake, or beach time, they give kids a distorted sense of buoyancy. The first time they throw a sweet cannonball without them and sink instead of bobbing up like a cork, they’re going to panic. Next thing you know, they’re misjudging how many barrels they need to harpoon into the shark to keep it at the surface and you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
For water survival basics, consider the scary-for-parents-but-remarkably-effective “self-rescue” technique that’s successfully taught hundreds of thousands of kids as young as 6 months to kick, turn, and float on their backs and wait for help before they can crawl. But that’s for risky moments when they might escape your gaze, not the diving, splashing, fish-like goofiness you probably thought you were getting into here.
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Well, there are some great techniques for that, too, and you don’t even need to shell out for weeks of lessons. After just a couple (or a close read of your new Navy SEAL best friend), you can teach Junior to swim yourself.
Step one is getting the kid comfortable under water. That might freak you both out, but only the kid’s allowed to show it. As the grown-up (sorry), you job is to make the whole thing fun, no matter what. Try this: Count to 3 and blow into your baby’s face; they’ll instinctively hold their breath and make a funny face. At that point you can quickly dunk them, bring them back up, wipe their face, and laugh and praise. A couple rounds of this, along with some floating toys, will eventually get them comfortable going under. Soon, you’ll be able to glide the kid under water to your partner, who still doesn’t think it’s funny when you dunk them.
The younger your baby is when they get in the water, the more likely they will instinctively move their arms and legs in swimming motions. The older they get, the more you’ll have to teach them. To teach kicking, float the kid on their back with their head resting on your shoulder and manipulate their legs in a kicking motion as you walk backwards. To teach arm strokes, support them in a belly float and move them through the water with an enticing toy just out of reach.
You can get all the professional advice you need at a local Y or community pool, but as long as your kid’s enjoying themselves you’re well on your way to having a swimming kid. Just don’t show them Jaws until long after they’ve deemed it safe to go in the water.