5 Mistakes to Avoid When Teaching Kids to Swim

Mom teaching toddler to swim in the sea

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When it comes times to teach your kids how to swim, you can either buy them lessons at a local YMCA or fitness center, hire a private coach, or save the money and teach them yourself, provided you are a savvy swimmer. 

Why Teach Kids to Swim?

Children have a lot to gain by learning how to swim, and it's never too early to get them acclimated to the water. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • According to the CDC, 10 people die every day from drowning. Twenty percent of the deaths are children under the age of 14. Swimming teaches kids water safety and the skills necessary to reduce the likelihood of drowning.
  • One out of three kids between the ages of 2 and 19 is considered obese. Swimming keeps kids active now and in the future to prevent obesity.
  • Swimming teaches active participation, goal-orientation, teamwork, sportsmanship, and how to handle winning and losing.
  • Swimming teaches perseverance.
  • The water can be intimidating, so mastering one's fear can help a child master other challenges as well.
  • Swimming injuries are fewer in swimming than in other sports, and it is a sport kids can do their entire lives.

If you choose to teach your kids how to swim, first brush up on your own skills, have some patience, and avoid these five common mistakes during instruction:

01
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Relying Exclusively on Online Drill Videos

Mother looking online
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Yes, you can find useful information and drills online to help you teach your child to swim, but you need to know what to look for. Videos are often supplemental resources. Consider for a moment who is teaching and who is swimming. These videos may be hosted by professional coaches, which you are not, who have years of experience teaching kids how to swim. What many videos also miss are the basics and the basis for the drills. You need to know why a specific drill you are teaching is useful, and you need to know the basics of the drill first—body mechanics, breathing, common mistakes—before you expect a child to perfect it.

02
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Not Recognizing Poor Body Mechanics

Underwater shot of Asian girl swimming
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When teaching older kids how to swim any of the strokes, there has to be constant evaluation of their body mechanics. You need to know the correct position of the hands, the body, the head, the legs, the hips, etc. You might think you are not training competitive swimmers, but you could be. If you are going to teach a stroke, you need to teach everything involved in the stroke, and body mechanics is the most important part. 

03
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Fear of Scaring Your Child

toddler at the pool
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Sure, you don’t want to scare your child by making him go under water for the first time, but you have to. Think about this: your child’s life depends on it. Even babies will benefit from getting comfortable in the water, but you cannot skip out on water safety exercises because you don’t want to make your child cry. They will get over it, and with practice, they will learn to love it. That first dip under water can lead to a love for swimming as well as provide your child with the basic skills that could save their life.

04
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Pushing Too Hard Too Soon

Sad girl by the pool
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There is a big difference between pushing your child to succeed and pushing your child to sheer exhaustion or complete disdain. When you begin swim lessons with your child, don’t expect them to perfect every stroke or skill the first time around. Swimming takes practice, and if you push your child to the point of frustration, your child will not want to swim. All the hard work you put into swim lessons won’t really matter if your child has no desire to go back in the water or if they stop having fun in the pool. Try to keep swim lessons to 30 minutes. Remember, your child doesn’t need to start with bio-mechanical analyses and personal training from day one. 

05
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Forgetting About the Kick

Kids kicking in the pool
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When teaching kids how to swim, it's easy to become consumed by the arms and forget about the kick. But swimming is more than the arms. In fact, it is more about the kick. Kicking aids in propulsion, balance, and floating. When teaching kids how to kick when swimming, don’t allow them to kick like drowning scorpions. Make sure the legs are as straight as possible and that the kick is controlled. Have them practice on kick boards or at the side of the pool.

Supplementing With Professional Lessons

If you don't believe you are knowledgable enough to avoid these common mistakes, why not sign your children up for lessons and get in the pool with them and the instructor? That way, you can hone your own skills, and learn the proper way to work with your kids during their non-lesson days. Plus, learning together is a lot of fun and a good way to strengthen the parent–child bond.