Anxiety in your young swimmer
Dealing with anxiety in young swimmers is something every swim parent runs into from time to time. And though feeling a certain amount of nerves around the water and before a swim lesson can be normal, persistent anxiety that prohibits your child learning is something that needs to be addressed sooner than later.
When parents understand what to look for and how to deal with their young swimmers’ anxiety, with the help of their child’s SwimWest instructor, they can help them overcome it and learn to love the water!
Caitlin Steager, one of SwimWest’s most experienced instructors, is no stranger to the signs of a bit of anxiety in her young swimmers. She’s been working with swimmers ages 4 months all the way up to those in their teens for the last 18 years. As a certified water safety instructor, she prides herself in helping them feel safe in the water and even overcoming their fear enough to master a skill they never thought they could.
We sat down with Caitlin and asked her advice on how to deal with children’s anxiety in and around the water.
What are some signs parents can look for to recognize anxiety in their young swimmer?
A lot of times swimmers who are nervous will talk about how they don’t want to go into the pool and will cry or try to run away. This is common for young swimmers who have never had a lesson before. After all, parents are always telling kids not to talk to strangers and not to go near the water and then they are putting them in the water with a stranger. It could be very confusing.
How should anxiety be approached before a lesson begins?
A lot of time it helps to talk about swimming lessons before they get to the pool. Parents should find out the teacher’s name or if they are a male or female teacher. (Some kids have anxiety for either male or female teachers) An example of that would be to say we are going to have so much fun with Ms. X in the pool. Sometimes it helps to bring a toy from home, as long as you don’t mind it getting wet – such as a favorite bath toy.
How should anxiety be approached during a lesson?
The teachers should remain calm. The thing I think works best is to distract the swimmer. Sing a song, ask them questions. What is your favorite color? What did you do today? Also, Have them look at something in the pool area, animals on the wall or something in the pool.
How can a parent work with the swim instructor to manage their child’s anxiety?
Talk to them about how they will be safe in the water and how they won’t leave them. Just general encouragement before, during and after the lesson is great practice.
How do you get the most out of all of your students, including the anxious ones?
Pushing them to do their best. If they are very nervous, start slow. Have them get to know the instructor and give them time to trust the instructor.
What other tips or advice can you give to a parent of an anxious swimmer?
Parents always think their child is the only one who has ever cried during a lesson. Believe me, they are not. We have had plenty of swimmers who were very nervous at first and now they are swimming laps in the pool without a problem. But it takes time. Sometimes it takes a month before they are completely comfortable in the lesson. Encourage them and don’t be stressed. If you or they have questions or concerns, please ask our staff we would be happy to assist them.