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Teaching Swimming and Water Confidence

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Mar 2013; updated Apr 2023.

Water confidence is essential to help teach your child to swim. Here are a few tips you can do in the pool to help build confidence in the water.

Teaching your child to swim is a lot easier once they've got confidence in the water. Here's some tips for building that confidence.

People are actually quite buoyant.  It's easy to float if you relax.

However, a fear of the water (or more correctly, a fear of drowning) has the opposite effect. Ironically if you are scared of drowning the more likely it is you will.

You, therefore, need to build confidence in your kids at the swimming pool, and some of the best ways to do so is with some games.

All activities in the water with children must be supervised.

Before you begin - remove the arm bands

If you have a small toddler, then this doesn't apply.  But if you have a small child that you are going to supervise and teach them to swim then we first recommend removing the arm bands.

Arm bands give a false sense of security and don't actually let your child immerse in the water.

Obviously don't throw them in the deep end (believe me, that used to happen).  Start building their confidence in the shallows.

For teaching swimming we've been using the excellent SwimFin.  (Read more about it here).  This will give some buoyancy but is not as restrictive as arm bands.

Before you begin - get some goggles

Kids Swimming Goggles

Some goggles can be uncomfortable and it would be great if we didn't need to put them on our kids. Unfortunately, the chlorine in the water can really sting eyes.

You need to remove anything that makes the experience bad for your kids.

There are some very good swimming goggles available, including mask-style goggles that are more comfortable than regular goggles.  (Here are some great kids swimming goggles that have been given excellent reviews by parents).

What's at your local pool

What facilities do you have to build water confidence at your local swimming pool?

Some swimming pools are just that: swimming pools.  Our local swimming pool is both expensive and not as good for kids.  (The town council wanted an Olympic style swimming pool....no one is going to need that where we live!).

Fortunately, just down the road (in Wales) is an excellent swimming pool: a small kids area with small slides, a large shallow beach area (including a crocodile), and a wave machine.  (And it's cheaper than our town's 'boring' pool.  And it has proper family changing facilities.  Well done Wales!)

If you have such a swimming pool near you, use it.  An area where the kids can have fun in the water is a great start to building confidence.

Diving Games

By far, the best way we've found that build confidence in the water is by getting kids to know that they can go under the water and get up again safely.  This removes a huge learning block when it comes to swimming.

If you take your child to organised swimming lessons, you'll find diving games will be a part of the lessons for that very reason.

Essentially you throw something into the pool, and your child has to dive down to get it (goggles essential of course!).

Start in the shallow end and just get them to retrieve something from under the water.  In your first few sessions it may only be deep enough for them to bend over and pick up, but try to get it just deep enough that they have to put their head just under the water.  This will teach them to hold their breath correctly.

Gradually move deeper.  Not too deep at first - they still need to be able to stand up - but this time get them to dive down.  Teach them how to dive under the water.

If they are not too sure about going underwater at this stage try the 'rocket':

  • Take them to water that is mid-way up their chest.
  • Get them to squat so that their head is just under the water (you may want to 'say hello' so they feel safe - see below)
  • Then get them to jump up and launch out of the water like a rocket.

When they start to swim you can go a bit deeper with diving games, but this will come much later. (Don't push it as it may erode their confidence).

These diving sticks are a great way to help build confidence in the water for your child

For diving games you can use a lot of different things, but your local pool will not want you throwing any rubbish in!

We've found these diving sticks from Zoggs excellent for the job.

You get four in a pack.  Throw them in the water and they stand upright on their little foot at the bottom of the pool.

They're brightly coloured and easy to hold, so easy for your child to spot and grab hold of.   They're quite cute too.

Say Hello

Underwater Confidence

One of the simplest, and one to try in a deeper area of the pool.

With you and your child holding onto the side of the swimming pool, both go underwater and wave hello to each other.

This should help build confidence in areas just out of their depth.

Under the Bridge

You can do this in shallower water.

Stand with your legs apart and get them to swim between them (obviously helping them if necessary so they don't get stuck).

Get Swimming Lessons

The above are just some ideas that have worked well for us in building water confidence.

Obviously, you must always supervise your child in the water.

To take things further, proper organised swimming lessons is the way to go.  However, if you can get your child confident in the water then they will learn quicker (and save you money on the lessons!).

Even when they do have lessons, extra practice with the family will always be useful.