How I Taught My One-Year-Old to Swim Unaided

We live in Malaysia. It’s hot and sunny, all the time. We, therefore, spend a lot of time swimming. As a result of spending a lot of time in the pool, my son could swim 25m before his third birthday and my daughter 100m before she was five. I’m not a swimming teacher and I’m certainly not saying this to brag or that he’s better than anyone else, there will be plenty better young swimmers out there, but I get a lot of people asking me how I went about teaching my young children to swim…so I’m going to tell you what I did.

Disclaimer – These are my kids. I did what I thought was best and it worked. I’m not telling you how to teach your child swimming, I’m not an expert, don’t copy this, every child is different, never leave your child unattended in the pool or anytime etc etc etc

Why did I want to start teaching my young children to swim?

Is it so they start learning the front crawl breathing technique so that they’ll have perfected it by the time they’re eight years old?

Or is it to teach them that in the unlikely event they fall in the water and happen to be unsupervised for any reason, how to swim the two metres back to the side so they don’t drown?

child diving

Before we moved to Malaysia, I knew that we were going to be faced with the daily added anxiety of living close to a pool, what if I took my eye off the kids for a minute and they fall in the pool?

I took them to a few lessons but quickly realised a lot of time is spent on ‘water confidence‘. Putting their heads in the water, that sort of thing. Then progressing later on to focussing on breathing techniques.

I’m not saying any of this is wrong, but time wasn’t on my side. They needed to learn and learn fast.

The perfect breathing technique will not help a young child in an emergency!

So for a couple of months prior to moving from the UK, we went swimming in the local pool, every week, without fail.

They were aged one and three at this stage and still wore armbands but instead of just nervously bobbing up and down, I picked them up….and threw them away into the water.

child swimming

They both cried.

Hmmm,, should probably have seen that coming.

But I wasn’t going to give up.

So after a minute or two, I asked if they wanted ‘to be a plane’.


How about a bird?


How about a space rocket that shoots fire out the engines?


child swimming

So this time, after a Thunderbirds style countdown from 5 to 1, I catapulted them as high as I could into the air!

Rinse and repeat

About three weeks later… both kids went from not wanting to put their heads underwater ever, to asking to go swimming every day so they could be ‘Thunderbird 1’.

Fast forward a month…we arrive in Malaysia

After the first week, I decided to ditch the armbands.

L who was coming up to her fourth birthday was starting to get the hang of things now, but T was still a big baby, he wasn’t old enough to properly listen to instructions.

child swimming

So with no armbands, I picked him up

and threw him high and away from me

As soon as he went under, I pulled him up

…I did it again…

…and again…

…and again…

child swimming

He was slowly getting the idea, you go down in the water and if you want to survive, you have to go upwards!

Sink or Swim

The next day, I told him to take a big breath and threw him.

But this time, I didn’t grab him.

When he realised he was ‘on his own’, he kicked about a bit….and found his way to the surface.

child swimming


After a few more days, I noticed when he was coming to the top of the water, he wasn’t sinking immediately! Yeah, it wasn’t pretty but he was managing to kick about and keep his head out of water for a good few seconds!

He was floating and treading water.

I grabbed him….then pushed away, through the water towards the side of the pool and this happened…

As the initial momentum from my push started to run out he could clearly see the side from under the water and started kicking and putting his hands out to get there.

There isn’t really much left to say about it really, what followed was practise practise practise and before I knew it, he was finding his own way to the surface and then swimming to the side on his own.

Voila, we have a swimming one-year-old (ok, nearly two-year-old, but still only one).

Kids are fearless. Parents should focus on their own water confidence, the confidence to let their kids go and figure it out themselves.

Yes we are fortunate we live by a pool and can practise every day, but it’s exactly for this reason, living by a pool, that I had to do this.

When they do start proper swimming lessons at school, the real experts who spend all day teaching young children to swim and actually know what they’re doing can think about perfecting their breathing and stroke.

Until then I can let both kids off swimming in the knowledge that they’ve both got more than a fighting chance if they ever get into difficulty in the water!

underwater selfie

I am a stay at home Dad, from England, living in Malaysia. Talking about how we survive the heat, the cultural differences, the lifestyle changes, the travel and lots more challenges that being a stay at home Dad in a foreign country brings.

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