Teaching Your Child to KICK?

Are you teaching your mobile baby or toddler to kick their legs in the water?

Or are you trying to teach your child and it is just not happening yet?

This is a very common feedback we hear from parents wondering why their baby or toddler or preschooler is not yet kicking their legs in the water, so we put together this blog post loaded with ideas to help get your child kicking!

Do not worry! Like all skills, this too will come with patience and repetition! Remeber that, in children, motor control & coordination develop PROXIMODISTALLY, from the center of the body (trunk/core)-to-outward; & CEPHALOCAUDALLY, in a head-to-downward direction. So kicking legs & paddling arms (& even later, the fine control of hands, fingers & feet) can seem delayed. While your child has the muscular strength required to achieve hydropropolsion, remember this is about their developing voluntary control through building their neuropathways, which takes time & happens at different rates among children.

Aquababies uses many tactics to encourage & develop hydropropolsion. Join an Aquababies class to get expert advice & hands-on demonstrations of techniques best suited to your child, then practice in your own time. Here are some tips you can use to practice & build your skills together:

1 – Verbal Reinforcement! “Kick kick kick kick kick…”
Use the same “kick” word, verbal cues, same kick songs & melodies when you want them to do kicking.
“Wheels on the bus go round and round…”Emi in the pool goes kick kick kick…”in the pool we go kick kick, etc. Just modify any familiar melody or song your child loves.

2 – Kick together at the poolside or while holding onto something! Children learn by example so demonstrate your own beautiful kicking in all fun varieties! Kick together seated on the poolside, kick while lying on your stomach/chest, kick in a glide position while holding onto the edge of the pool, kick on the pool steps, etc. If there is no movement, alternate between simulating their kicking & giving them chances to kick by themselves.


Photo: Simulate kicking for your child, hands-on

3 – Start moving together in different hold positions!

Kicking on the Front: with your shoulders just under water level, place your child’s chest on your shoulder with their arms behind your head & back (this helps pacify squirmy children) so your child is in a horizontal body position, grip their lower legs with your hands & simulate kicking. You can support their body with your arms if that is helpful. Children usually enjoy the close & cuddly nature of this position with you. As they get more confident & begin to kick on their own, bring them off of your shoulder into the Inward Neutral Hold with your arms extended but relaxed (so you’re face-to-face).

Inward-facing Neutral Hold (also called “sandwich hold”). Hold your child horizontal infront of you so you’re face-to-face, tell them “kick kick kick” or sing together as you walk backward. If there is no kicking response, you can place them over your shoulder to free your arms & hands to take hold of their legs & simulate their kicking. Keep your shoulder just above water level to ensure your child’s face doesn’t go under, be mindful of the water level at their mouth & nose at all times. You can do this on their front side (chest) or with them reclining on their back, their head supported on your shoulder (cheek to cheek with you for added security, if necessary) ; OR with child in an upright seated position with their back supported against your chest (“lap kicks”).

Photo: Inward Neutral Hold position

Photo: Inward Neutral Hold modified for babies & children who do not have very stable head control. Dad’s hands are supporting child’s head under the jaw to keep his face above water.


In Outward-facing Neutral Hold, your child is at your side in horizontal body position on their chest, you hold them under their arms with your own arms relaxed above water (or beneath your child if you want to give them more support). You are both looking outward in the same direction, so stay mindful of the water level at your child’s mouth. This hold is not for babies with weak head & neck control. Someone can agitate the water at their legs so they feel stimulating currents.

Photo: Outward Neutral Hold, chasing a toy. Outward Neutral lets your child look ahead, chase a toy, reach for the wall, etc, as you walk facing forward. Keep your over-reaching arm & shoulder relaxed lest you become fatigued. Stay mindful of the water level at your child’s mouth.

Sing your kicking songs, repeat “kick kick kick” & throw a toy to chase: no kicking, you don’t go forward!

Photo: Outward Neutral Hold with mom walking sideways as child holds a ball, conveniently keeping his face above water level! The water level at this pool is high at mom’s shoulders, so Outward Neutral is modified here for safety & comfort.

4 – Practice pushing off the wall with their feet! Perform this with child on their front, on their back, sitting upright, count “1-2-3-PUSH. This helps activate the feet & legs.

Photo: Kicking on the Back & pushing off the wall with Aquababies Founder, Julie-ann James! 

5 – Swish your child side-to-side in a wide water snake “S” pattern as you travel around the pool, reminding them to kick. The water currents on their side-body & legs can help stimulate kicking motion.

Photo: Baby is comfortable & buoyant in horizontal body position so mom holds him in the “Front Tow Hold” with a supporting hand under his chest. This is a great balance, core & back strength exercise (like “tummy time”) for your child & great arm exercise for you! 

6 – If you are swimming with someone else, they can accompany you with demonstrations of their own kicking, splashing at your child’s legs, agitating the water and directing currents on your child’s legs, or simulating the kicking action hands-on.

7 – Vary the volume and/or tempo of your kicking songs to help keep your child’s interest (and your own!) through the repetition!

For example, you can do quiet, slow kicking songs with no splash for three versus, pause and count 1”2”3 “before you make a big fun aerial helicopter with them “Wooooo!…then do the kicking loud and fast and boisterous with more splash, “1”2”3 helicopter, etc and keep alternating.

8 – Kicking on the Back – Repeat everything with your child reclined on their Back side as well! Lay child’s head on your shoulder (feet under water, no splash) or hold them in upright seated position (sometimes called “lap kicks”) with their back against you and kick the legs with a splash, with no splash, approach the wall & toe touch, count & push off the wall, seated lap kicks back to the wall, count & push off again, repeat this activity. If you are teaching your child to backfloat, remind them “feet underwater” as they kick gently to help stay afloat.

Photo: Kicking on the Back: Dad simulates the kicking motion & supports baby’s head on his shoulder

9 – If your child goes underwater & demonstrates comfortable breath control, you can practice releasing your child in a front glide to “HOLD ON” to the wall. Remember to cue them! You can release them more or less strongly depending on their ability, you can give them a helpful water current, fan the water behind them, or boost them a tad on their bum so they feel the forward momentum going toward the wall. If they have their balance they usually begin to kick. You can release them more & more gently so your child propels theirself  independently toward the wall or steps.

10 – Using a pool noodle under your child’s arms, you can stand infront or beside your child as they kick & swim freely. Noodles can be placed under arm across the chest so child is supine, or across the back so child is reclined for kicking on the back. A noodle can be placed between the legs so your child rides it like a horse to practice balance & kicking vertically, a good practice for treading water.

Photo: Noodle under the arms, kicking while playing a game. Note: you can challenge more advanced children to perform other activities simultaneously while kicking, such as blowing bubbles or performing arm & hand motions. This is uaually very challenging for them at first & you will notice that their kicking often stalls as they put their mind to the other tasks at hand. With that in mind, careful not to overwhelm or discourage them immediately after they achieve rhythmic kicking! 


Photos: Noodle under the arms for Kicking on the Back. 


Photos: Noodle (Sea)horsey, vertical balance exercise for treading water!

The Shark Fin buoyancy aid is also a fun and useful tool as it helps your child stay afloat while allowing them full freedom of movement in both legs and arms. Shark Fin also maintains a more realistic center of gravity for your child as they swim horizontal or vertical.  If your child is confident, you can swim and kick along beside them, have a race or chase some toys together.

Photo: Kicking on the Front with Shark Fin buoyancy aids, ferrying the island across the pool

Kickboards can be used to practice Kicking on the Front & Kicking on the Back, of course. For Kicking on the Front, position your child supine, grasping the kickboard on the top or on the sides and practice kicking in their horizontal streamline body position. Children often have the tendency at first to bend their arms & huddle the kickboard underneath their torso instead of reaching out to grasp it in a streamline position. This is normal, (remember the proximodistal direction of development?), gradually relax them into a more streamline body position.

Photo: Kicking on the Front with a kickboard. Mom supports child from the side as he maintains his balance.

When Kicking on the Back with a kickboard, support your child’s head at first if they are nervous as they recline on their back, holding their kickboard on its sides & down flat against their chest & stomach. They can also hold the top of the kickboard under their chin. Remind them to push their belly button up against the kickboard to practice backfloat body position!

11 – Play a kicking game with floating toys, both in the water and sitting on the poolside, where you have a great visual of kicking legs together. By generating currents with your kicking legs, you and your child direct the toys to a corner of your pool or another fun destination, vary your kicking to make a “stormy sea” or “gentle waters.”

Photo: Upright seated kicking on the back

This activity demonstrates to your child the consequences of motion from their kicking and their ability to generate currents.

When you or your child gets frustrated or bored with kicking activities, change it up and do something else, give the legs a break and come back to it again later! Have a rest and work on your floats, work on jumping, work on arms, diving, gliding, fun games etc.

We hope this article stocks your arsenal of swim ideas!

Good luck with the kicking and happy swimming!