Keep Your Kids Water Safe: Water Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

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Keep Your Kids Water Safe: Water Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

parentingUpdated June 24, 2021
woman teaching toddler how to swim

by Quinn Kelly

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

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I thought I was doing my first son a service when we taught him to be scared of drowning. Every time he would get near a pond or pool, we would warn, “You better not go near that! You might drown!” This method proved effective for keeping him away from water, but when he turned four, and we decided he was old enough to learn to swim, we learned we had created a water monster. He was terrified. We quickly learned that we taught him to think water was bad in our effort to keep him water safe. And that proved to make teaching him to swim very challenging. He never wanted to put his… Read More

I thought I was doing my first son a service when we taught him to be scared of drowning. Every time he would get near a pond or pool, we would warn, “You better not go near that! You might drown!This method proved effective for keeping him away from water, but when he turned four, and we decided he was old enough to learn to swim, we learned we had created a water monster. He was terrified.

We quickly learned that we taught him to think water was bad in our effort to keep him water safe.

And that proved to make teaching him to swim very challenging. He never wanted to put his head underwater or learn to float on his back. Then one day, he got brave and jumped in without floaties, and I had to dive in and pull him out. This only reinforced his fear of water. And convinced me teaching a child to swim was nearly impossible!

Once he finally learned to swim, I realized I would not make the same mistakes with my next sons. So here’s what I would recommend as my favorite water safety tips for teaching children to swim and making the pool safe!

Water Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

1. Start Some Type of Water Exposure Young

Babies aren’t born with a fear of water, but they can develop one as they grow if they aren’t exposed to it. So it’s smart to get them swimming with you early or in lessons early. Get them used to putting their head in and blowing bubbles early. This way, they don’t even know to be scared. Enrolling them in a Mommy and Me swim class is a perfect way to start!

2. Set Boundaries with the Water But Don’t Make Water Bad

You need to teach your children to stay away from pools. But be careful to monitor your language with these warnings because they need to know water is good but not safe until they learn to swim. “We don’t get in the water until we know how to swim! Are you ready to go to swim lessons?” This makes them see the boundary but understand that swimming makes water fun.

3. Find the Right Swimming Lesson For You

Survival Swim

This technique only exists in some larger areas, but this tends to be a quick, week-long method where one instructor teaches children ages: infant through age 5 how to fall in, flip on their backs and swim to the side.

The plus side of this technique is that your child safely knows how to fall in and get to the side by the end of the week. The downside is that if your child is young, they tend to cry throughout the training. Because they don’t understand what they’re learning, so it’s not always pretty. We did this method with all of my sons at ages 2, 3, 6. And I learned that once they are old enough to talk and comprehend, it’s my favorite method because it is quick and effective. But for a two-year-old, it can be emotional. However, if I had a pool in my backyard, I would absolutely say this method is a must!

Infant Swimming Resource (ISR)

This is a specific type of survival swim that is founded nationwide in 1966. It is a longer but more detailed approach to learning to swim, allowing kids to learn over a six-week period with short increments of swimming daily. (Weekends not included.) It involves eating a special diet and leading kids along a specific swimming progression where they can get to the side and float by the end of the six weeks. Learn more about Infant Swimming Resource here.

Traditional Group Swim Lessons

Traditional swim lessons are a great way to learn to swim if a parent has time and money to invest in the process. We started my son at a swim academy when he was three. Many of the kids in his class had been going since they were infants and were swimming well. If you have time, this method is wonderful. But if you are trying to get a child water safe in a shorter timeframe, this may not be right for you.

Private Instructor

After survival swim, we hired a private swim instructor to meet with our toddler. And this is where we saw impressive advancement quickly. Since he entered lessons already knowing how to fall in and float on his back, she was able to use any skill he was willing to show her to advance his abilities instead of following a specific formula like group lessons typically require. This allowed him to improve rapidly.

4. Consistency is Key

Once your child has learned to swim or has learned a swimming skill, it is important to keep your child in the water. It seems children advance the fastest and get the safest when you consistently let them build on their skills. If they learn to jump in and swim to the side but then are out of the pool for six months, they will likely lose that skill. For purposes of remaining safe, consistency is key!

5. Hire a Babysitter if You’re Outnumbered

Even though I have three swimmers now, the public pool can sometimes make me feel worried that someone could still get pulled under or jumped on. Last summer, I decided it was worth asking an extra person to come along to help out. There is always the option of hiring a sitter to come along for the ride, but it’s also possible to ask if a neighbor or preteen wants to come along just to play. They often can keep an eye on older ones while still having fun.

6. Ask for Extra Eyes if You’re in a Busy Setting

We went to a pool party last summer and we ended up having several children swimming all at once. I was at the pool with all four of my children, including my new preschool swimmer and baby. I intentionally asked my neighbors to help me keep a watch on the boys. That way, if for any reason I did turn away at the wrong moment, they would see something too.

7. Set Firm Water Rules

When you have a new swimmer, it’s important to let others know that the child is a new swimmer. Children tend to like to horse around in the water, so I always remind older children not to tug or pull on the newer swimmers.

8. Before They Play, Ask About the Pool

We live in a warm climate and many of our friends and neighbors have pools. I’ve learned it’s important to ask parents if they have a pool before my child goes to play. If they say yes, I ask if the back door is locked and if they have something to keep kids out of the pool, like a fence or cover. I then remind my child that pools are not a place we play or explore without adults. 

9. Review CPR

Every summer, I try and review what to do if someone did end up in the water without a floatie. Yes, I don’t want to imagine anything ever happening. But I also know that if something did happen, I want to be prepared. Here are two videos you might find helpful: how to save a drowning child and child water rescue breathing.

What are some of your favorite water safety tips? We would love to hear!