Fun water safety games! Survival skills for your child

Swimming lessons are a tradition for many families – once children get to be school age. But don’t wait so long to introduce your children to the water, and don’t think that swimming lessons is the same thing as teaching children to be safe around the water. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children start in swimming lessons from the age of one. Why? Because drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 globally. That is terrifying to most parents and many instinctively react by trying to keep their kids away from water until they are older, but the opposite approach will keep your child safer – for their whole life.

Think about it – babies are in water in the womb for their first 9 months. Water is naturally soothing. Do you remember your baby’s expression when they had their first bath? Quizzical at first and then a bit alarmed when they hit the water and it splashed, but then pure joy. Bath-time becomes a treasured ritual. Your baby loves the feeling of your arm around them and your close attention. And, water truly does soothe the savage beast – it’s calming. Children naturally gravitate towards water because it is soothing – and fun, and the source of great joy.

There are a number of water safety things that you can do with your child whenever you are near water, starting in infancy and adding as they get older – and remember, all of these ‘games’ are also fun for children, so it’s a positive experience for both of you.

Bath safety: Start by being positive with your baby in the bath. Toys, songs, allowing them to splash are all important ways of making your baby comfortable in and around water which will lessen their fear later on. It’s especially good for your baby to gradually get used to having water poured over their face – it’s the first step to putting their face in and blowing bubbles. Splashing may make a mess but it also lets a baby control water getting in their face. Talk to your baby, tell them you will always be near them when they are in water – and then do it – never leave your child alone in the tub.

Stories: Use a book like ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’ to teach your child ‘never go near water without a grownup’. You can order the book at Amazon and there are free coloring sheets at the web-site to remind kids of the lessons. Think about hanging up a favorite drawing in the bathroom to remind everyone that a grownup needs to be nearby whenever children are in the tub.

Humpty Dumpty: Start playing ‘Humpty Dumpty’ as soon as your child can sit up. Your child sits on the side of the pool while you hold them, you sing ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and when Humpty does a big fall you help your child ‘fall’ forward and then say ‘turn around and hold on!’ Their head doesn’t go under water and at first they probably can’t even grasp the side, so just put their clenched fist on the side of the pool. But over time you graduate to having their head go under and eventually letting go of them, but always, ‘turn around and hold on’.

Monkey Hands: When your child has the physical coordination, have them hold on to the side of the pool with both hands, with feet against the wall and ‘walk’ their hands around the pool. At first they may only be able to go a couple of feet – to the ladder or steps, but over time they’ll want to try going around the whole pool and then pulling themselves out on the side – no ladder or steps!

For Older Kids: Once they get a bit older and have mastered Humpty Dumpty and Monkey Hands, hold your child’s hand and have them push down to touch the bottom of the pool where the pool slopes. Again, it will help them internalize the correct reaction if they fall in – ‘oh yes, I just push up from the bottom and grab the side’. You are teaching them to just react correctly to save themselves.

Then move on to jumping in the deep end and swimming the length of the pool, diving for rings, and ‘coral reef dives’ – swimming between your legs without touching the coral (your legs) or the coral will scrape them. Whatever fun games you can devise that will get your kids comfortable with being in the water and out of their depth will help keep your kids safer.

The idea with all these water safety games is the same – give the child confidence, let them learn their limits in the water gradually, and most importantly, teach them what to do if they ever do fall in the water unexpectedly. You are teaching them to rescue themselves, or at worst, not panic for at least a crucial minute or two until you notice they are missing. And be prepared for each child to progress at a radically different rate. My son was diving and swimming competently at four, my daughter didn’t really connect until seven – but they both love water and understand safety and their own limitations.

Water will be around your child their whole life, and it is a source of great joy and health – help your child to enjoy the water safely!

About the Author

Global water safety for children is my passion and I can't wait to get up every day to work at it! I blog about water safety regularly at, or you can follow me on Twitter at RebeccaSaveKids. Rebecca is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


7 Responses to “Fun water safety games! Survival skills for your child”

  1. Karen Faust says:

    Starting at 6 months of age a child can learn to roll over and float, when they can walk they can learn to swim a distance, roll to float and flip back over to swim. These are Safe Start lessons at most Central Florida, USA YMCA’s or Infant Swimming Resource lessons around the world. You can find more information about Self-Rescue lessons at or Always watch your children in and around water.

  2. Make sure that you are comfortable with the techniques used teaching your child. Some methods are quite controversial. If you see children consistently crying, screaming or being forced to put their head under ask yourself if that is the message you want sent to your child regarding water.

  3. Water survival techniques work for some and in theory should work for most but I never see positive results. Any student that I have ever worked with, who has been a part of a survival swimming school like ISR is usually “white knuckles” on me. They don’t want to let go of me, they are nervous, they dig their fingernails into my skin, and they repeatedly say things to me like, “don’t let go.”

    I have found much better results with positive association and large amounts of supervised exposure to water. Swimming is a lifetime activity and children are never drown proof or safe around water even with good water survival techniques. As soon as everyone accepts that idea, we can all begin working towards creating a safer community.

    Have fun, be patient, and positve around water and you can help children to “soak up” good water safety habits.

  4. I agree Bryan. My mantra is ‘positive, repetitive, and age-appropriate’. And teaching a child how to be safe in and around water is far more than swimming or water survival.

  5. Kenny Montgomery says:

    This is a great way to get kids used to the water. Just make sure you never take your eye off of them. This goes for swimming pools, beaches, or any body of water.

  6. Best advice going Kenny. Teach. Watch. Protect.


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