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When you live in a warm-weather climate it's likely that you or someone you know has a swimming pool. If you also have a toddler, you might worry -- with good cause -- about your toddler's safety around water. More drowning deaths occur for toddlers than any other age group, according to the International Life Saving Federation. Toddlers can learn how to swim but still don't have the ability to make good decisions about water safety. Learning to swim helps keep them safe, but supervision in the water is still essential.
Knowing Your Toddler
Some toddlers have no fear of water and would walk in right over their head without a second thought. Some are so fearful that you can barely get them to dip a toe in the water. Your approach to teaching your toddler to swim should be tailored to your own toddler's fear level. Hold your adventurous toddler back and gently encourage your reluctant toddler. You can proceed much more quickly with teaching an adventurous toddler than with a fearful one, but you must keep a much closer eye on him. If you force your fearful toddler, you might reinforce or worsen his fear of the water.
Getting Used to the Water
The days of throwing pets and children into the water to "teach" them to swim are -- hopefully -- long past. Your toddler's first few "swimming lessons" should involve getting comfortable in the water, even if it means that you carry him in the pool the entire time. If your pool has steps, sit on the steps, where the water isn't over your toddler's head and he has a secure platform, so he can get comfortable with the water.
Using Flotation Devices
Not everyone agrees with the use of floatation devices when teaching a toddler to swim. The advantage of using floatation devices is that they instill confidence in the water. The downside is that they can also prevent the development of a healthy respect for water, especially in toddlers not old enough to understand the dangers. Use a Coast-Guard approved life jacket rather than blow-up arm bands or other air-filled devices, which could deflate, recommends Parents.com. Swim instructor Jim Reiser says that the right amount of flotation support is essential: Too little can make your child "swim scared" without the confidence he needs to learn to put his face in the water.
Getting His Face Wet
Learning to hold his breath underwater is a skill learned in simple steps. Blowing bubbles is often the first step towards getting your toddler's face in the water. Once he's comfortable with his mouth in the water, have him blow bubbles with the nose and mouth. Your toddler should feel secure in the water while doing this, sitting on steps, being held securely, standing in the pool or wearing a floatation device. One he masters this, you can advance to picking up a toy in the water while holding his breath. He should remain in a secure position, such as sitting on steps, while doing this.
Kicking and gliding a short distance, face in the water, while you support his chest and arms, is an essential step to learning to swim for your toddler, swim instructor Beth Jenkins says on the University of Florida website. Have your child stretch out his arms while you stand two to three feet away from the wall. Let him stand on your legs and push off toward the wall, keeping his face in the water until he reaches the wall. If your child is wearing a floatation vest, you won't have to hold him up. Your child must possess the communication skills to understand and follow directions before he can accomplish this step.