Parents and guardians have many different reasons for wanting their toddlers to develop a love for the water and swimming. For some, it is all about water safety and equipping their toddlers with safe habits and skills. For others, swimming might be a favourite pastime for the family, and they want to invite the toddlers into this shared family passion. We have also met some parents and guardians who have fear of the water themselves and who want their toddlers to have a more positive experience with the water and with swimming.
All these reasons are valid and we want to support you in the best way we can. By signing your toddler up for swim class and reading this article, you have already taken steps towards your goal.
Do take note that these tips should be accompanied by the fundamental understanding that the adults are in charge of the toddlers’ safety in the water and in the pool. If you are unsure about how to be safe in the water, approach your child’s instructor for a discussion.
Tip 1: Listen to their feelings and comfort levels
The toddlers will express how they feel through verbal and non verbal communication. Are they arching their backs a lot? Are their eyes getting very red? Are they saying “no?” These may be signs that the toddlers are uncomfortable with what they are expected to do. Though there is no one correct answer for how to respond to the toddlers, we recommend trying to understand what they are trying to communicate, what they are uncomfortable with, and find ways to help them feel secure. If your toddler is ready to challenge themselves, support your toddler safely and keep a lookout for when things might take a turn for them.
Tip 2: Acknowledge your own feelings
Recognise your own desires, anxieties, fears and assumptions about toddler swimming
It might be a helpful step to reflect on your own feelings and assumptions, and identify if any of them need to be worked on to be in a better place to support your child. For example, is there the assumption that your child is not progressing if they are not fully submerging in the water? There are many ways for your child to progress and for your child to eventually arrive at full submersion. Do you have the anxiety that your toddler will never enjoy the water, and that you will need to be more forceful in order for your toddler to learn swimming? Each child is different and some may respond negatively to being forced, causing the child to resist more and take more time to shed the fear or dislike of the water. If you want to discuss any of these reflections with your toddler’s instructor, feel free to inform our customer service personnel to arrange a time to talk with the instructor.
Tip 3: Take the pressure off - model ease, enjoyment and safety in the water
When your toddler is uneasy in the water or hesitant about the environment, taking deep breaths to moderate your own feelings in the water may help you model ease for your toddler. If your child takes an accidental dip, you can try to help your child up gently and calmly, watching for signs of how they are feeling. If they show distress, acknowledging it can be helpful for them to know that you are looking out for them and hearing them. Showing that you can enjoy the water (even if you don’t submerge yourself) offers a positive image for your toddler. Having a good time in the water with your toddler will reap results that last, much faster than force and coercion.
Tip 4: Play with your toddler in the water
In our classes, we introduce water games and activities so the toddlers loosen up, get comfortable and are self-motivated to explore and go further. Playing time also helps toddlers and families build happy memories in the water. When playing outside of class time and without the time restriction, allow your toddler to play without the expectation of achieving anything. When they play, they may challenge themselves a little more each time. Letting them explore within safe limits gives them the opportunities to lead their learning. For more on play and why we think it is important, check out our article about it. (Link)
Tip 5: Celebrate your toddler’s small wins
Did you child not want to dip their ears in the water previously, and was happy to do so these few weeks? Did your child cry for your embrace when they held onto the pool bar previously, and yet was happy to play “money monkey” independently along the pool bar this week? Acknowledge and celebrate these small wins with your toddler as they lead eventually to bigger ones. The toddlers may go back and forth in terms of how comfortable they are with certain activities, so tracking their small wins over a few weeks can be more helpful than on a week-to-week basis.