The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.


Back Floating Babies

Dear Swim Professor,

I am teaching a class in my hometown with kids 15 months to 2 years.  I am having some difficulty with the back float.  Lots of squirming and crying.  I did the resting head on shoulder and singing songs.  Do you have any other suggestions, if you do please let me know.  Thanks.

Maddie M.

Dear Maddie,

The most important advice I can offer you to share with your parents is, “Don’t force it.”   It is very common for children at this age not to like being on their backs, and while they are capable and skill ready, the children may not be “mentally ready.”    It is my opinion that learning to swim should be a loving, enjoyable experience, and infants and toddlers should not be forced to do skills against their will.

When I am teaching an infant-toddler swimming class I stress to the parents, if your child is communicating to you that he/she is not happy, respect that.  In this case, sit the child up.   By keeping a child focused approach, your young students will learn to love swimming lessons and develop a life long love of the water.  By forcing back floating or any skill on a happy child, you will only prolong the process of learning the skill, and in many cases, set yourself up for failure.  Why?  Because by forcing a skill on a child, the child will only learn to DISLIKE the process of learning to swim instead of loving it, which is what we should ALL WANT:)

In our Parent & Tot 101 DVD, I tell a true story about my son Jeb.   When he was two, he seemed to hate being on his back.    However, my approach in the Swim Lessons University Parent & Me course is to spend a designated amount of time on back floating/kicking every lesson and the back kicking activity is in every lesson plan.   So like it or not, I come back to each skill every lesson BUT I never “make” the child do it against his/her will.  So every time Jeb would fuss, I would simply sit him back up and continue singing and loving and teaching.   So one lesson, still age two, we were on the front kicking exercise with the noodle.  Jeb was now kicking around the pool independently (of course I would follow him around and keep my eyes on his face to make sure he wasn’t taking in water at any time).  At any rate, he is kicking around the pool on his front and then suddenly, out of the blue, without any direction or instruction from me, he flips himself over on his back and starts kicking everywhere on this back!  He’s been kicking happily on his back ever since.  In fact, just last night, he won an 8 & under backstroke race, LOL!

So essentially, he had been “skill-ready” even when he didn’t want to do it, he just wasn’t mentally ready to try the skill until that day.  Parents and teachers should not get caught up in their own goals or be overly task oriented, but rather keep learning fun, and the skills will fall into place with the right environment.  Don’t think you are doing them a favor because back floating is some magical lifesaving skill.   Children should love the water first, and drowning prevention is a layered approach.  In my opinion, no child should ever be in a situation where they have to save themselves.   There should be multiple layers of protection that prevent a child from ever getting into a life threatening situation.

I hope this helps, and keep up your enthusiastic work!  You are a special teacher and your students are lucky to have you!

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim was the first American to win the award in 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about the Swim Lessons University certification program and curriculum, make sure to visit us at 

We have training and certification programs designed for both private instructors as well as organizations like YMCAs, Recreation Departments, Athletic Clubs, and more.

Swim Lessons University is currently being utilized by recreation departments, YMCAs, America Camp Association swim lessons programs, as well as by private swimming instructors in 45 states and over 30 countries!

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May 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm
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