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 determined to go to the pool with little ones alone, this post is for you!
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What to prepare before you take your toddler to the pool
Last summer I took the kids by myself a lot, ages 3 under 5. None of them could swim yet. 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.
Hurdle #1 is simply leaving prepared. 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.
1. Apply sunscreen at home
This is key to an easy transition once you arrive! This is my number 1 safe sunscreen recommendation for kids. Don’t forget to sunscreen yourself too. 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.
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. The reason I’m a rash guard fan now is that:
- 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. My son has a blue hooded rash guard and it is 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 mom suits of all time are from Albion Fit. They’re modest, expensive, high quality, and worth every penny!
I also bought this exact white zip rash guard to put over any suit to avoid burns and sun damage.
4. Check the pool schedule ahead of time for camps
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. Worth it if you can plan for that!
Swimming essentials for babies and toddlers
Some days you will just forget 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 checklist for your pool bag.
- 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, Blue Lizard is what we like (especially for the face) and what my husband recommends to his dermatology patients. Doesn’t sting kids eyes and is a mineral sunscreen rather than chemical.
- 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
Ask yourself how will you carry everything from the car to the pool. Take a second an close your eyes. 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. This 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.
I know many swim instructors are anti-puddle jumper because it teaches kids a false sense of security from the beginning. That sounds great if you have one kid you can watch the whole time. 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 your comfortable with.
7. Don’t pressure yourself to take off life jackets when your hands are full
The biggest mistake I made was to put pressure on myself to get them to “practice swimming” without a life jacket. For 2 weeks I held my 15 month old on the stairs while I watched my 3 and 4 year old nearby swim and jump around. 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.
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 scares me. 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 act there. 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? Leave a comment and let me know!
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