With swim lessons beginning as early as infancy, many kids learn early on to enjoy the water.
But… not all of them.
In fact, even though my son began swim lessons as a baby, joining me for Parent-Tot classes at SwimWest, he was NOT interested in swimming solo. If he could be held by me while I sang and swished him around the water? Sure! The pool was great! But I’ll never forget the day I dropped him off for his very first class on the steps of the pool. His teacher was kind, patient and encouraging, but my son was miserable. I remember seeing his little red face, crying as he tried to run away from the steps to find me. And guess what? That made me pretty darn miserable, too.
I debated whether or not to continue with lessons. After all, who wants to pay for their child to scream and cry for 30 minutes? But I knew deep down that it was important to stick with lessons, that learning to swim wasn’t “just” for fun (although it can obviously be enjoyable!). It was for safety. Learning to swim is critical for kids to avoid drowning, and we live in an area with ample opportunities to get in the lakes or local pools.
So we stuck with it. He continued to cry and hate the pool for the first few weeks. I continued to anxiously wonder if I was doing the right thing by keeping at it.
Along the way, I learned helpful tips from swim teachers, other parents and through trial and error that made an enormous difference in my son’s enjoyment of the water. If you’re struggling with an anxious swimmer, never fear! There’s hope and lots of options you can try to help your kiddo gain confidence in the water.
Here are our top tips for building confidence in the smallest swimmers:
- Swim OUTSIDE of lessons. Take your child to an open swim and let them get in the water *just* for fun. Let them jump in from the side into your arms. Let them keep their head above water if that makes them more comfortable. Hold them as you glide around. Whatever it is that can make the pool feel safe and secure for your child will make lessons that much easier on them.
- Say good things about swimming. Maybe you hated to swim as a child. Maybe you STILL hate to swim. Don’t tell that to your anxious child. Talk about how swimming will help them get stronger, or how much fun it will be to go to the pool next summer. By staying positive in their presence, they will internalize the messages that swimming can be great!
- Start small. Don’t push your child to do too much. If you take them to open swim, try sprinkling water on their head rather than having them go underwater right away. Or let them dip their toes in for awhile rather than going all the way into the pool.
- Make bathtime enjoyable. By making bathtime (and water!) fun for your child, they will learn to get more and more comfortable in the water. Let them have bath toys, sing them songs while they play, or gently pour water over their head to get them used to the sensation.
- Choose a pool with warm water. Many kids hate cold water, and choosing a pool with warm water can make a huge difference in their comfort and enjoyment during lessons.
- Drop and go. While it can be really tough to leave a crying child with their swim teacher, the longer you stay, the harder it is on them. Give your child’s instructor a chance to bond after you drop them off, and trust they’ll take good care of your child during their time together!
- Give tons of praise. If they made it through a class without crying, celebrate! If they tried something new, praise them! Make swim a place where they can build their confidence through new skills and lots of praise.
- Have a friend join the class. Having a familiar face during lessons can make a big difference. If you can have a friend join your child’s class, they may be more willing to try new things.
- Help your child bond with the teacher. Stick with the same instructor as long as possible (assuming it’s a good match!). By staying with one teacher, your child will have the consistency of a familiar face, teaching style and expectations.
- Let your child pick out swim gear. Take your child shopping for a new suit, or a new swim towel. Maybe they need new goggles or swim caps. Whatever it is they can choose for themselves will give them a bit of ownership over their gear and hopefully make it a bit more fun to get ready for class.
We hope these tips help you find new ideas to encourage your smallest swimmer! As they gain more and more confidence in the water, swim lessons will be more enjoyable for all.