Without fail, summer rolls around every year, and many head to the pool. Older kids and teenagers may already be comfortable with the water, but what if you have a baby or infant who isn’t sure about water and has never even been exposed to a swimming pool? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends formal lessons starting at one year old, although some parents choose to enroll for lessons at swim schools at earlier ages for social interaction, a fun activity or the guidance of a trained professional. If you’re not ready to start swim lessons, what can you do to aid your child’s development? Here are five tips to get your baby comfortable water at home.
As soon as you feel comfortable, introduce your newborn to the warm bath in a sink, small baby bathtub, or with a washcloth and warm water. The more often they experience the relaxation of a warm bath, the more they will look forward to being in the water.
Even better, you can fill up the tub and take a bath with your baby at any age – this will give them a sense of security while creating a great habit. This will introduce your baby to buoyancy and the fun that water can be while staying safe with mom or dad.
Use a washcloth soaked with warm water on their chest to keep them cozy and comfy during bath time. Be sure to have lots of rubber duckies, toys, and cups in the tub for them to grab and pour. As they get older, introduce bubbles, tub crayons, and other fun bath time toys.
The most important skill in learning how to swim is to make sure your child is comfortable with having water in their faces. Use a cup with holes in the bottom or a washcloth to sprinkle water on your baby’s face. This will help them get used to the feeling of the water on their face and tolerate experience more.
Outside the tub, splash mats or a small sprinkler is a great way to introduce them to spraying water and associate it with fun. Splashing in the bathtub also lets them get used to having water in their face.
If your baby is able to grasp things, you can place toys and objects in front of them to clench and grab. This will keep them more engaged during bath time or water play.
Also remember to stay positive and your child will respond to your cues and emotions. Narrate what you are doing during bath time in a singsong voice: “Now, I’m washing your eyes. Now, I’m washing your ears.” Singing and the everyday routine are what babies thrive on (even if you don’t think you can sing…your child will still love to hear your voice!)
If your infant is six months or older, they will really enjoy water play with buckets of water at home. Boats and toys that float and sink are always a big hit, and a splash pad or water mat in the living room gives them the freedom to splash around indoors.
When the temperature warms up, you can play outside with a kiddie pool, splash mats, or sprinklers. (Don’t forget about water safety rules and always put infant-friendly sunscreen on your babies.)
The most important tip is to always stay water safe with your infant. Children have drowned in just 1 inch of water so keep your eyes on your kids the whole time they are interacting with water. Don’t get distracted by your phone or the doorbell, don’t leave them alone when in or near water, and don’t walk away if they are in the bath or pool.
Finally, if your baby is between 2 and 5 months old, you may consider getting their toes wet with a Bathtime Babies class at your local Emler Swim School. This class is great for learning more about how to use bath time at home for socializing, bonding, and a gentle introduction to the wonderful world of water.