As you might expect, taking toddlers to the pool by yourself will not be restful or relaxing. Especially when you know that drowning kills more kids ages 1-4 than anything else except birth defects according to the CDC!
If you are planning to go to the pool with little ones alone, this post is for you! I took 3 kids under 6 to the pool by myself quite a bit, and while it’s not relaxing…it’s doable.
I’m sharing how to prepare, as well as what not to do from our experience!
Going with kids who can’t swim yet
Last summer I took the 3 kids by myself a lot, all under age 5. None of them could swim yet.
I’m not sure the anxiety was worth it each time, but we did build a lot of neat pool memories and the kids LOVED it of course.
If I had to recommend a splash pad or a pool at these ages (if you’re solo) I’d say splash pad. But…since you are here for pool tips…read on!
It was a learning process figuring out what to bring, how to keep my kids safe, close by, and of course I learned what not to do.
If this is still too overwhelming, I don’t blame you. The kids can enjoy the sprinkler in the backyard till you have help. They will be just fine.
What to prepare before you take your toddler to the pool
I remember my first morning going to the pool alone with the kids. I was so nervous!
One thing I learned after that first day is that the more I could do at home the less stressful it was at the pool. Here’s a few things to do first!
1. Apply sunscreen at home (to yourself & the kids)
I think it took me 30 minutes just to put sunscreen and bathing suits on 3 kids! Once they see the pool, they get so impatient…so try to do this at home.
This is my number 1 safe sunscreen recommendation for kids. It rubs in so well, doesn’t hurt even if it touches their eyes, and smells amazing.
Don’t forget to sunscreen yourself too! Too often I’d forget this, tell myself I’d do it at the pool, and then get burnt because I’d miss a bunch of spots when hurrying.
When I’d forget to sunscreen up at home, we would do it inside of the gated area they had that locked by the bathrooms because it helped to have a barrier between my kids and the pool.
2. Invest in rash guards for kids
Ever since my husband started dermatology residency, we have said goodbye to traditional swim suits and embraced long sleeve rash guards for the whole family.
Why rash guards are CLUTCH:
- It protects their skin from sun damage and burns. (They’ll thank you later!)
- You use WAY less sunscreen.
- Not having to sunscreen 3 sets of arms and backs means we can get in the pool sooner!
From personal experience, I will say don’t buy anything blue. It blends with pool water and makes your kids harder to spot in an instant.
My son had a blue hooded rash guard (typical boy color of choice) and it was hard to spot him in the water sometimes! The brighter, the better, and not blue.
3. Buy a mom suit you can bend over in
Taking toddlers to the pool by yourself means lots of bending over, squatting, cleavage, and babies pulling on your suit.
And with the stress of keeping eyeballs on your kids, you don’t need to be insecure about your suit staying put!
Look for one that holds ALL of you in. This poor mama at the pool with me once had her boob fall out because her toddler pulled her bikini top over too much!I felt so bad for her because I know how embarrassed she was!
My favorite CUTE mom suits of all time are from Albion Fit. They’re modest, expensive, high quality, and worth every penny!
Update 2021: I’ve decided rash guards are mama’s new summer suit too. Now age 32, I can really start to see skin damage from bad sun decisions in high school and early 20’s.
My hubs is a dermatologist who will be specializing in skin cancer removal, and he wears a hooded rash guard too. So, if you’d like a good list of where to buy CUTE rash guards, leave me a comment. I may just do a whole post on that for you!
Side note: I also have this exact white zip rash guard that loosely goes over any suit.
4. Avoid the pool when summer camps are there
I’m not sure if your pool has summer camps or swim meets, but ask at check in if there is a master schedule anywhere.
I find it much more stressful to watch 3 kids closely with a packed pool, so it would be nice to avoid those times!
Our best luck finding an empty pool has been to go when it opens, or toward the end of the day. Bonus is that’s when the sun is the least intense. Worth it if you can plan for that!
Swimming essentials for babies and toddlers
Some days we just forgot things!
I’ve forgotten towels which ended in a wet ride home and freezing cold kids. I’ve forgotten our food, swim diapers, and wet bags for all the soaking swimsuits.
Do your best, and maybe even keep some extras of all these things in your trunk if pool days are going to be often.
Here’s my pool bag checklist:
- Empty plastic bag for wet wet clothes
- Puddle Jumper(s)
- Water bottle
- Gallon ziplock bag for your keys/phone/wallet (Optional, but this is how I avoided packing my purse and a pool bag.)
- 1 extra swim diaper
- Sunscreen, this SPF 50 is what we like (especially for the face).
- Dry outfit for each kid + undies
- Pool toys (or borrow from the lost and found)
- Hat for baby
5. Consider taking a stroller to the pool
You have your baby or toddler in one arm, pool bag in the other, another toddler walking, possibly your purse on you…so how will you get from the car to the pool?
Confession, I never took a stroller but probably should have.
So many times I thought my arm would fall off on the way to the car, and I never had a place to strap in my newly walking toddler. This made it really hard and looking back why didn’t I take a stroller?!
I remember getting one kid’s shoes on them and then chasing my 15 month old. Then putting all the wet clothes in my bag and off to chase him again.
I felt like a chicken with my head cut off and a stroller would have taken away that panic I felt when he’d start to walk away. Plus, it would have been a way to transport all the pool crap I was carrying.
At a minimum, have your kids carry their own towels! They can still hold your hand crossing the parking lot. Plus, it will free up your pool bag a lot.
Water safety with babies and toddlers at the pool
Main goal at the pool? Keeping your kids alive. Second goal? Try to enjoy yourself.
Drowning is obviously the biggest stress of going to a pool and something that still scares me. Read about how to prevent child drowning before you go.
6. Have a life jacket on everyone
The simple way to ease your anxiety about drowning is to make sure everyone has a life jacket. We like these for our toddlers.
But remember, life jackets do not replace watching your kids.
If you have a new swimmer, then maybe take it off if they are able to stay right by you and if you are able to concentrate on watching them the whole time.
My rule was they had to stay where they could touch and I had to be right next to them. Usually as we were right by the stairs or a clear boundary area.
I know many swim instructors are anti-puddle jumper because it teaches kids a false sense of security from the beginning. I don’t doubt this is true, but it’s not practical if you are going alone.
But with 3 kids by myself? It was either put them in life jackets so they don’t drown, or don’t go to the pool.
You will have to see what you’re comfortable with!
7. Don’t pressure yourself to take off life jackets when your hands are full
The biggest mistake I made was to let them “practice swimming” without a life jacket.
For 2 weeks I held my 15 month old on the stairs while I watched my 3.5 and almost 5 year old swim close by and jump around near the stairs. They could still touch, but what if they walked a ways to where they couldn’t?
It wasn’t smart and caused me a LOT of stress. I think I did it so they could practice what they were learning at swimming lessons. It was TOO much.
I hated going to the pool those two weeks. Going alone was not the time to acclimate them to swimming without a life jacket. Not with a baby on the hip.
We stayed away from the pool for a couple weeks, and after that I had them put on life jackets until the weekend when their dad could come too.
Update: The following year, I had 1 pretty solid swimmer who was tall enough to stand a head out of the shallow end. It no longer stressed me to let him go without a lifejacket, because he was obedient to stay where he could touch.
I made a rule that one kid could be out of the lifejacket at a time. This was so helpful for me because I could carefully keep my eyes on 1 while 2 were in a puddle jumper close by.
8. Teach safety rules for swimming pools
- Walk. We are still working on this one a year later. The reason is it’s slippery and kids can either fall into the pool or crack their heads. Or, like my toddler, scrape their knee and scream for 10 minutes.
- Stay near mom in and out of the pool.
- No pulling or hanging on kids in the water.
- No getting into the pool until mom does.
9. Keep your eyes on them as if you are the only lifeguard on duty
Every mom has probably had that moment where she found herself chatting and then all of a sudden can’t find her kid. I’ve done it too and it’s terrifying.
Did you know most drownings happen when the parent was in the pool but not watching?
If you find yourself with a mom friend at the pool, position your body so you can always see your kids. Stay off your phone, and don’t leave them for any reason!
Remember, your kids can drown in under a minute so keeping eyes on them is the best thing you can do.
Real drowning doesn’t look like the movies. It’s quiet, and fast. Know what the signs of drowning look like and keep watch.
10. If mama gets out, everyone gets out
With little ones, I made the rule that if I got out of the pool (to get the baby a hat, to take one kid to the potty, etc) then everyone got out. It was the only way I knew my kids were safe.
If the older 2 had puddle jumpers on then they could play on the pool stairs close to where our towels were because I could see them easily.
If your kids don’t listen to a rule like staying on the stairs, it’s probably best to just take them with you.
11. Stay by the pool stairs
Speaking of stairs, with 3 under 5 I practically lived on the pool stairs! My baby wanted to crawl on them, so the other two had to stay by me.
We didn’t go in the whirlpool, the deep end, or anywhere they couldn’t touch unless my husband came on the weekends.
And remember, puddle jumpers and shallow water are helpful but don’t replace a watchful eye when it comes to drowning! Kids can drown where they can touch if they panic.
12. Look for gradual slopes in pools
Be aware of gradual slopes in pools where kids can easily (and quickly) get in over their heads. I’m especially fearful of this if we ever allow one kid to take off their floatation device to practice swimming. Once again, a watchful eye is the best thing here.
A dear relative of ours told me about the time he was with his daughters (ages 5 and under) at a pool with a gradual slope. Everyone could touch where he was at, until he looked over a few feet away to see his daughter just walking on the bottom, head under water, without a struggle or fight.
That’s what drowning looks like. He got to her, but just in time.
13. Wear your baby or get a baby floaty
There are some great mesh water slings out there to hold your baby in at the pool (if they’ll let you!). They dry quickly and you can have hands free to grab your older kid if needed.
For smaller babies under a year or so I’ve seen quite a few moms use these baby floaties with shade.
I often just carried my baby, but as soon as he started walking I needed the security of a life jacket just in case.
14. Sign up for swimming lessons
I’m a believer that everyone should learn to swim! It’s literally a life saving skill.
The scary thing I find at the beginner levels is that my kids proclaim they can swim but they really can’t. Their lack of fear of water when they cannot swim is what could kill them.
But it reminds me to keep eyes on them every minute. Keep them close by. And keep taking swim lessons!
15. Sign up for a First Aid/CPR class online
It’s smart for ALL parents to take a First Aid/CPR class to know what to do in emergency situations like choking or performing CPR. The Red Cross offers online only classes if you are interested.
Tips for leaving the pool with kids
I really wish I would have just taken our umbrella stroller to strap in my newly walking baby and all of our pool gear. It was hard to keep him close by for long.
He kept wanting to go play in the splash pad fountains. Here are a few things that really help when your kids are wet and you feel you can’t go fast enough.
- Know it will take 15-20 minutes. Take a deep breath.
- Put wet clothes in a plastic bag. I didn’t at first.
- Have older kids run the wet swim diaper to the garbage if they can.
- Bring shoes they can put on themselves. This was a game changer!
- Keep band aids in your wallet. Ever since I put them there they are ALWAYS there and easy to find. And when it’s the only thing that stops tears from a scraped knee at the pool, you’ll be so glad you did!
Practice taking toddlers to the pool and it will get easier
Just do it, plan for a SHORT trip, and you will learn what to do better the next time. Pretty soon it will feel streamlined and the kids will learn how to behave at a pool.
Here are more pool safety rules by Katie from Joyful Messes. She had a pool in her backyard with 3 non swimmers ages 5 and under (talk about scary!) and has some great tips for parents.
How many kids will you be taking to the pool this summer? And if you found this post helpful, would you help me by sharing this on Pinterest or Facebook? Thank you so much!
Posts you may also enjoy
- 15 Chores for 5 year olds that are actually helpful
- Busy Toddler’s Year Long Preschool Curriculum Review
- Our first month home with 3 kids in 4 years
- How to reduce screen time for kids and get them to play again
- 8 Things I’ve stopped doing to be less busy as a mom
- Our routine for an 18 month old with older kids at home
- How we get 3 kids to nap at the same time every day
- How to homeschool preschool: Getting started
- Best gifts for 3 year old girls
Tuesday 2nd of July 2019
This is great advice! We're headed to the waterpark this weekend so I'm definitely taking notes. Thankfully my husband will be with me and we only have two kids so it shouldn't be too bad. Does your husband have an opinion on Young Living's sunscreen? They came out with a new one last year that's 30 SPF and I want to try it but not sure if I trust it to protect my kiddos.
Friday 26th of July 2019
Hi Melinda, I did find that Young Living spf 50 was given the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Approval ONLY for short term incidental sun exposure (short term exposure for things like walking to and from a car, or running errands), but NOT for long exposure such as heading to the lake, biking, etc, and is not approved for water resistance. Think of it's coverage similar to what you would find in makeup or moisturizers containing spf. I personally would not use it on my kids, and would feel much safer using a sunscreen on them like Blue Lizard or Blue Lizard Baby. But that is entirely up to you! You can find more about the seal of approvals here: https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/seal-of-recommendation/seal-categories.