Child holding on to wall in swimming pool


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The Importance of Grips

Did you know that children are born with a natural grab reflex? They grasp and hold on tight to fingers, toys, hair and clothing. Teaching a child to grab the wall of a pool is very important, as a good grab may help a child save themselves in an emergency. A good grip will enable a child to hold onto the side of the pool, and ultimately climb out of the pool when they are ready.

By maintaining this grab reflex and encouraging a strong grip during swimming lessons, we can build a child’s strength and independence in the water. We can also teach the child to support their own body weight in the water. Building this strength will be great for the child’s swimming skills and beneficial for their physical development. Here are some of the ways we teach grips in our lessons:

Grip Fingers

We start this exercise with the child gripping the adults’ fingers. During the initial stages, parents can help by clasping their child’s hands between their thumb and index finger. When parents feel the child grip tight they can lift their index finger so that the child is holding on independently. Be alert in case the child lets go, particularly if they haven’t been conditioned to go underwater. Once children have a strong grip they can be guided gently through the water. As children advance through their swimming lessons, they will even enjoy letting go, submerging underwater and climbing up the adult’s t-shirt. However, as with any swimming skill parents must prepare child to do this and stop the exercise if they are showing any signs of discomfort or stress.

Hold The Wall

As a child’s physical strength improves, parents can encourage them to hold on to a pool wall. Parents should begin by supporting the child’s weight with their knee or hand. Once the child grips the wall, they will be able to practice on their own for short periods of time. Remember to be within arms reach and actively supervising at all times. If the child is happy going underwater, it will not be a great concern if they let go. If that happens, remain calm, gently guide them back onto the pool’s edge or onto you. Make sure you also reassure them that all is well. Don’t allow the child to fall underwater if they aren’t yet comfortable with independent submersions.


Children need to be able to move around the pool to a suitable exit point. This could be a stair, ledge, or a ladder. In the initial stages parents will need to assist these hand movements. Toys can be placed along the wall for a ‘game’ if children are apprehensive. As children grow stronger, they will master this skill on their own. Again, parents must always stay within arm’s reach and supervise them at all times. Drowning is a silent killer, therefore supervision is mandatory.

Food For Thought

If we can encourage children to get out of the water independently, they will learn their own capabilities in the water. If the child becomes use to their parents picking them up all the time, they will not learn their own capabilities. However, if children are taught to save themselves while under strict adult supervision, they will gradually learn what they can and can’t do in the water.

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