Obviously, for toddler swimming, learning to hold their breath will be one of the biggest steps for your baby or toddler. Initially, your child may begin to learn this when practicing getting their face wet as a baby. It can become like a reflex action. What you want to do, is to teach your toddler how to make this a deliberate and conscious action, holding their breath at will, rather than just as a reflex.
Firstly, you can begin this step out of the water. Show them how to do it with big puffed cheeks, and make it a fun thing to do – a game. Count one, two, three, then hold your own breath, encouraging them to do it with you. When they have the hang of this part, you can count as they hold their breath – to show them how long they can do it for (just a few seconds is fine).
Then, when they are confident, you can move onto practicing this in the water. A pool is perfect for this (or calm, warm sea), so that you can be holding your toddler reassuringly. Use the same method you have been adopting for pouring water over your toddler’s head and holding their breath out of the water, and always explain exactly what you are going to do (it’s a big shock to a baby or toddler to be “dunked” without warning). We discuss the technique in Water Familiarisation for Newborns and Getting the Face Wet.
“Jimmy, counting to three, then holding breath, and under water.” Count to three and then either dunk your toddler briefly, or quickly draw them through the water, then out and hold them close to you, so they immediately know they are safe. Always greet them at eye level, and with a big smile and praise: “Well done Jimmy; good boy!”
If your toddler is distressed the first time, leave it for a while and try another day. Make sure the water is warm enough, and introduce it gradually. There is no point continuing if you have a miserable or distraught child on your hands, which would only serve to scare your toddler and make it harder next time. Always reassure your child they are safe, and try to make it fun.