I have two little boys—a 3-year-old, and a 6-month-old—and I’ve always loved to swim with them. But “by swim,” I mean walk gingerly near the steps holding one of them close, never letting his head get anywhere close to submerged. But when I, my husband, and our youngest son, Gabriel, shared an unforgettable swim class, the Huggies Little Swimmers #Trainingfor2032 Swim Class with Michael Phelps, his wife Nicole, and their 15-month-old son Boomer, we discovered that there’s a better way to introduce your child to the water. The class was led by Cathy Bennett, an instructor with the Michael Phelps Foundation. (She taught Michael to swim as a kid!) and was part of Huggies Little Swimmers #Trainingfor2032 campaign that aims to help babies thrive in water through fun, safe water play. Steal these tips to help your little one swim like Michael and start #Trainingfor2032!
1. It’s OK to put his head in! I already described the awkward way that I function in the water with a baby. Michael Phelps has a different tactic. As soon as he and Boomer got in the water at our lesson, Michael quickly dunked the little guy’s head. According to Bennett, if you can get your baby used to going under, he won’t fear doing so when it’s time to learn to swim in earnest. A trick to make it safe: Blow in your baby’s face right before you dunk him. The blast of air coming at his mouth and nose will make him hold his breath. We did it with Gabriel and like magic: no tears! In fact, he didn’t even cough!
2. Make waves. If you’re anything like me, your instinct is to keep the water in the pool as tranquil as possible. But in our “Olympic” baby class, Bennett had us sing the song “Did you ever see a Lassie?” as we swung our babies—with heads well-supported— back and forth. Then we sang and swung at double the speed. There was splashing galore, and by the end of the song, the pool was awash with huge waves. That’s how you get a kid comfortable in the water, Bennett told us.
3. Get your own shoulders in. The more of your own body that you can submerge, the more buoyant you will be—and that makes it easier to play with your baby. See how Michael (who is a foot taller than me) has everything but his head in as he coos at Gabriel? See how I—a complete novice in a state of total disbelief—have my shoulders out and am smiling like a lunatic?
4. Show him how to get out. As parents, we spend so much time trying to accustom our children to the water that it’s easy to forget to teach them an even more important safety skill: How to pull themselves out of the pool. Bennett had us practice bringing the babies to the wall and getting their hands up on the side. Boomer was a natural. (To me, he looked like he was ready to shoot off the side into a perfect backstroke.)
5. Change up his positions. During the Huggies Little Swimmers #Trainingfor2032 Swim Class, Bennett had us hold Gabriel in ways I never would have thought to try: On his back, over my husband’s shoulders, and facing out (instead of in). We also pulled him in to the water from a sitting position on the side. These activities increased his comfort and helped us simulate real swimming. By the end of the class, Gabriel wasn’t moving around in the water as well as Boomer (because, well, #genetics), but I could see that he was well on his way. Now if only I could get Michael to swing by our local pool for another lesson…
Julia Edelstein is the senior health editor at Parents and a mom of two.