Babies come into the world without a fear of water. They typically lose their innate sense of fearlessness towards water around the 12 month mark. Prepare your baby for swimming lessons using these bath time activities to get them comfortable in the water.
Although children as young as 3 months old can be in the pool, many parents might be more comfortable and secure introducing children to water in a more controlled environment. A way to do this is to use bath time as learn to swim time! Fill the bathtub and get into it with your child to promote water comfort. Using bath time intentionally can prepare your children for an easier transition into the pool as they get older, while also increasing the quality time you spend with your kids!
Some Things to Keep in Mind for Bath Time:
- Bathing does not increase the risk of infection to an umbilical cord stump, so you don’t need to wait for the stump to heal completely before getting your newborn into the tub.
- Choose a time for bathing when there will be minimal interruption and plenty of time for undivided attention.
- Bathing before bedtime will help your baby relax and sleep better.
- Avoid baths just before or after feeding – if a baby is hungry they won’t relax and enjoy the experience, and if they are full from a feed there is a risk of them ‘spitting up’.
- Never leave your child unsupervised or alone. If you need to leave the bathroom to answer the door or phone, wrap your baby in a towel and take them with you.
- Make sure the air and bath temperatures are comfortable and appropriate for your baby’s sensitive skin. Aim for bath water around 100 F (38 C). The room should be comfortably warm, as a wet baby can be easily chilled.
Bath Time Activities:
1. Use Verbal Cues
The capacity to communicate is the ability and desire to connect with others by exchanging ideas and feelings, both verbally and non-verbally. Most children learn to communicate to get a need met or to establish and maintain interaction with a loved adult. Narrate what you do in the water, this will help your child connect words with objects and actions. Verbal cues strengthen your child’s word association abilities and also prepares them to pick up the same verbal cues from other people in the future. Some examples of verbal cues are: “splash” when you or your child are splashing in the water, or “kick” when you or your child are kicking in the water, or “back float” when you’re floating your child on their back or “front float” when on their front.
2. Practice Submerging
Submerging practice will get your child comfortable with the sensation of wetness and buoyancy. You can do this by wetting different parts of the body before going on to wetting the face and eventually trying full underwater submersions.
There are 3 positions you can place your baby in to allow them to experience different sensations while in the water.
Lower yourself into the water, lying on your back. Place your child stomach down on your chest/stomach in a way that allows them to snuggle and feel close contact with you.
Next, gently pour water from a cup over baby’s back and legs, allowing the baby to feel the warm stimulation of the water running over their skin.
Once the baby has been introduced to the water in this way, you may sit up and cradle your child in front of you, between your legs.
Support your baby with one hand behind their neck/head and the other behind their lower back area. Gradually lower them into the water so that the back of baby’s head and ears are submerged, with their face remaining out of the water. The back of their head must be supported at all times. This cradle position allows for face-to-face contact between you and your child.
Once comfortable in this position, you may remove your supporting hand at the base of their spine to allow your child a greater degree of independence and increased freedom to experience the buoyancy of the water.
The third position involves the baby being held tummy down in the water with the parent seated. Baby must be constantly supported to keep the mouth and nose clear of the water.
In this position, keep your hands under baby’s armpit with thumbs pointed skywards. The palms of the hands are rotated upwards to allow the wrists to come together to support baby’s chin and to allow your child to rest their head on your hands.
Baby lies in a horizontal position to the water, with their head kept up (supported by you) and their backside close to the surface of the water. Babies love this prone position because it gives them freedom to move and extend their legs in a motion that is otherwise not possible on land. It also gives you the freedom to gently glide baby from side-to-side and back-and-forth. And it even allows baby to push off the end of the bath, which can strengthen the legs of the baby and give them an added sense of security.
Wetting the Face
Once your child is used to having their body wet you can sit them in your lap facing you. Take a wet wash cloth and wipe their face gently. Since you have this eye contact with them, it is important to remain positive and smiling. It is also a good time to use your verbal cues that associate words with actions. Cup your hand and scoop up some water, gently pour the water onto their head. Do this until they are comfortable before proceeding. Work your way up to gentle splashing (get them to splash with you!). Face wetting is a good time to teach your child how to hold their breath.
Progression to underwater submersion needs to be slow and gentle. Read our article Is it Safe to Dunk a Baby Underwater? to learn more about full submersion.
3. Breathing Exercises
Once they are accustomed to getting wet start to practice breathing. Babies can be taught to hold their breath as a small amount of water is gently poured onto their face. While you’re in the bath tub with your baby, try the following to teach your child how to hold their breath.
- Take half a cup of water, preferably in a brightly coloured cup to add visual stimulation.
- Gain your child’s attention using the cup as a visual cue.
- Use your child’s name and the words “Ready, Go!” pour the cup of water evenly and consistently across the child’s head. This Cue, ‘Name, Ready, Go! is extremely important in the conditioning process. The phrase is a trigger which tells the child to prepare to hold their breath.
- Congratulate them and provide positive reinforcement. This will increase the child’s enthusiasm, confidence and relaxation towards this process, and with being in the water.
This technique improves the breath-holding capacity of your baby.
4. Try Unassisted Floating
Unassisted floating is just the next step. If your child is already comfortable in all three positions then move onto try this. Lay your child on their back and hold them in the floating position, help them relax as much as possible. Gently and slowly release your support. This is something you need to feel for as if you aren’t feeling that your baby is floating on their own you should not let go. If you do let go keep your hands underneath them in the water in case they need you to support them again.
5. Blow Bubbles!
Practice blowing bubbles in the water using the mouth. You should be demonstrating how to do this to your baby repeatedly. There are various games and activities to help them understand how to blow bubbles in the water. A game you might want to try involves blowing a ping pong ball across the surface of the water. Adding more ping pong balls gives you more game options. You can have a race with your child and see who can blow the ping pong ball to the other end first. Who can blow farthest? Alternately, you can demonstrate how to blow bubbles by making funny noises while blowing in the water or you can even pretend to be a fire-breathing dragon!
6. Sing Songs!
Singing songs in the bath tub is another form of having verbal cues. Songs are a great way to help anyone learn and remember, songs use rhymes to help children to learn vocabulary and communication skills. Not only do songs benefit your child when doing water conditioning but studies suggest music and movement has a plethora of benefits:
• Nourish the brain while affecting all areas of development
• Strengthen listening, motor skills, language, problem solving, spatial-temporal
performance and literacy
• Help develop critical listening skills
• Create space for emotional well-being
• Provide opportunities to practice social skills
• Support phonemic awareness
• Instill acts of kindness and cooperation
• Calm and focus the mind
• Encourage interaction in non-threatening ways
Checkout these 7 Silly Bathtime Songs you could use to sing with your child.
7. Item Interaction
Developing motor skills in the water through different activities allows them to use their limbs more freely in the water. Use manipulatives such as bath toys or household items that they can interact with. Toys can also be a great way to distract them from getting upset or can be used to get them to focus on the activity. For example, a squirting toy can be used for face wetting. You can squirt yourself in the face with the toy and let your child do the same to you. This builds trust and comfort, they will eventually squirt themselves in the face with water! Have floating toys, sinking toys or toys that squirt! Use toys as devices for learning in concert with all the other bath time activities.