When the temperature drops through the winter months, it can be tempting for parents to stop taking their infants swimming until the hot weather returns.

A recent survey by children and baby swimwear specialists Splash About found that over a quarter (28%) of parents take their toddlers swimming only in summer. However, continuing regular lessons throughout the year—regardless of how gloomy the conditions are outside—is crucial to avoid babies wasting any progress they had previously made in the pool.

What are the benefits?

The Splash About survey also discovered that one in ten (10%) parents take their babies swimming most of the year but avoid the pool in winter.

When toddlers are in the process of learning how to swim and have a break over winter, returning to the pool can not only be an unnerving experience, but can damage their confidence and possibly give them a fear of water. From as young as eight months old, children can quickly develop a hatred for being in the water and become afraid of swimming, even if they had formerly enjoyed it. This is often referred to as the ‘water wobbles’.

Bernadette Spofforth, Managing Director of Splash About, said: “Until swimming becomes second nature to the child, it’s vital they continue practising so they can develop their skills.

“A break is likely to disrupt their routine, slow down the process and lead to them forgetting everything they had previously learnt. This can be extremely frustrating for the child.”

Splash About’s study also revealed that 13% of parents take their toddler swimming on sunny or warm days only. In summer, it’s easy for infants to remain active as they are constantly running around outside in the hot weather. In winter, however, swimming is a great form of exercise, keeping their energy at a consistent level without them having to go outside and face the dull weather. Swimming lessons will also be unaffected by any changes in the weather, unlike outdoor sports.

Noël Janis-Norton, parenting author, coach and director of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, said:

“When young children are still learning how to swim, or when they have just recently learned, if they have a break of more than a few weeks (at any time of year) they are liable to forget some, or even most, of what they have learned. That’s because the complex skills involved in swimming are not yet stored in their long-term memory.

“The younger the child, the easier it is for their brain to forget what they have learned, so it’s best to continue taking a young child swimming throughout the year.”

Some parents may avoid winter swimming lessons, thinking wet hair in the cold weather will cause their babies to catch colds. This is a myth. Swimming throughout the year will actually help infants build a stronger immune system so they can fight off nasty bugs. However, drying the toddler’s hair before they go outside is recommended—that way, they don’t feel uncomfortably cold and associate that negative feeling with swimming.

Noel said: “If the infant is at all anxious about any aspect of swimming, the more frequently they are taken swimming, the sooner the fears will fade.”

How can parents encourage toddlers to swim in winter?

Although the pool’s temperature doesn’t change throughout the year, the air around it can sometimes feel much cooler and this will make the baby will feel considerably colder than they would in summer. Wearing swimwear that is designed to keep the child warm can improve their swimming experience and make the initial transition from the changing rooms to the pool much easier.

Bernadette said: “Wetsuits with fleece lining will cover the majority of the toddler’s body, and keep them warm while getting in the pool. This can help them enjoy water for a longer period of time. A swim hat can also be an added benefit.

“Before they change into regular clothing, hooded ponchos are perfect for keeping them warm after getting out of the pool and into the changing rooms.

“Changing mats can be used to stop their feet getting cold and to protect them from the wet and slippery changing room floors. This takes away a lot of the stress that is often associated with getting young children dressed and out of the swimming facilities.”

The most daunting part of swimming in winter can be getting into the pool due to the colder air temperature. Most baby-friendly pools are usually warm, and it’s often beneficial to use these to warm up in before switching to the larger, deeper and generally colder pool.

Swimming is a life skill which can be vital in emergencies. Consistently taking part in lessons prepares children for accidents in the future and enables them to become comfortable and confident in the water.

Survey data

“What times of the year do you take your baby/toddler swimming?”

Answers

Percentage (%)

Only in summer

28.8

Only in winter

3.8

Only on sunny/warm days

13.3

Only on rainy/cold days

6.1

All year round

37.9

Most of the year but I avoid winter time

10.2