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Is 3 years old too young for swim lessons? Not if you follow our tips

Learning how to swim is an invaluable life lesson every adult should know, and which every child should be taught. Whether at the neighborhood swimming pool, a private venue, or a trip out on a boat, everyone will experience time near a body of water at some point in their lives. And with that experience comes the risk of entering the water in some way or another. It takes the average adult less than 40 seconds to drown. For a child, the time is cut in half, taking a mere 20 seconds to lose your little one to a tragic accident. If you are a parent, now is the time to start thinking about teaching your child how to swim, or perhaps consider swim lessons offered at your local health club or through your child’s school.

How soon is too soon?

When it comes to learning how to swim, babies as young as 1 year old can be taught – and taught effectively – how to turn over should they enter the water and tread back to the side of a swimming pool. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents with children as young as age 1 to begin teaching or researching a pediatric swimming instructor to teach your baby how to swim. According to the AAP, “Your child should learn basic swim skills: entering the water, coming to the surface, turning around, propelling through the water for at least 25 yards, and being able to exit the water.”

It’s recommended that parents use these swim times as an opportunity to openly communicate with their children about pool safety. This will vary depending on your child’s age and what is appropriate based on it; what’s important is that the educational aspect of swim safety begins as early as the training itself.

As always, safety first

Because infants can drown in less than 2 inches of water in less than 30 seconds, safety precautions must be taken anytime a baby is taken into or around a swimming pool, lake, ocean, or any other body of water. By following the following recommendations, parents can begin to instill the importance of these safety measures indirectly with their children and begin building the bond of trust by ensuring nothing negative takes place. A few general pool safety rules and protocols as recommended by the Gateway Region YMCA include:

  • Never swim alone. Like the buddy system, this prevents unexpected drownings.
  • Supervise children at all times while they are in the water. This includes putting aside your phone, books, magazines, or any other possible distractions.
  • Don’t play breath-holding games. Children are easily influenced by their peers and could compete in this game with tragic consequences.
  • Always wear a life vest. If your child has not mastered the art of swimming, using a life vest is highly recommended.
  • Don’t jump in the water to save a friend. Drowning victims will cling to anyone and anything to prevent drowning. This often results in both victim and rescuer losing their lives.
  • Enter the water feet first. This prevents unintended head injuries.

Where is the best place to start swimming?

The location of your child’s swim lessons will vary depending on which delivery method you choose. If your little one will be taught by an instructor, these educators often use the same pool for each lesson – usually found at local health clubs or schools. By continuing to use the same location for each consecutive lesson, children gain a sense of predictability as well as the same general safety procedures to follow each time. By reinforcing safety with routine, children are much more likely to retain the information taught – especially when instructing younger children. For this reason, parents who choose to instruct their children how to swim themselves should do their best to use the same pool for each lesson until the child becomes comfortable in the water.

And then what?

If you’ve elected to teach your child to swim from home versus using an instructor or class setting, you may be wondering what to do next. You’re likely thinking, “I’ve done the safety talks, we’ve prepped the pool, and we’re ready to teach. Now what?”

  1. In-the-water skills. This involves turning over, breathing, paddling, floating, and finally, submerging the face without breathing in water. Though these seem complex, research has proven that 3-year-old toddlers can be taught these skills easily.
  2. Self-confidence. Though this doesn’t require physical training for you or your child, learning to step back and build your little swimmer’s self-confidence is a huge part of their swimming lessons and skill set. The excitement surrounding swim lessons builds and emboldens their skills in order to “keep up the good work.”

Once you’ve set up the ground rules, emphasized safety, and enhanced security and awareness while around the pool area, the act of teaching a child to swim is not in fact hard. The key steps involved include patience, consistency, calmness, and praise. If these recommendations are followed, a safe and fun swimming experience should be enjoyed by all, including your 3-year-old toddler.

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