Comfort Tips
Conquering Anxiety in Your Young Swimmer

Conquering Anxiety in Your Young Swimmer

Confidence around the water makes for a fun lesson!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.

Open swim can help

Open swim can help

Almost everyone has heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect,” right? When it comes to swimming, there is nothing more helpful that constant practice. Open swim times are probably one of the best opportunities for that. If you are just starting to swim, training for a triathlon, or anything in between, open swim times at the local pool are always beneficial.

For children, this is where Family Swim comes to play. Over the years, I’ve seen lots and lots of children who are starting to swim at an older age. Parents are bringing their child in for their first swim lesson and the child is clinging to them, not wanting to swim. One big reason that I’ve noticed new students get so scared on their first day is because they have had little to no opportunity to get into the water with the people they trust the most; their parents. They are being handed to a stranger for their first experience in the water. Of course, there are many factors as to why parents would rather have an instructor be with their child on their first day in the water, but swimming with someone they already know and trust can be especially helpful.

When I can tell the child is not getting comfortable at a “normal” pace, I suggest parents take them to an open swim time. Here, the child is able to explore. With the whole family, it can create a more fun and engaging experience. They are going to be more likely to put their face in the water and swim if they are with someone they know. Children are able to test their limits in a safe and positive way by playing. It is no longer a swim lesson, it is just fun. Little do they know, they’re practicing, and with practice, comes progress.

If you are a parent wanting to take your child to open swim, remember to bring a safe flotation device such as a puddle jumper. Bring toys that float and toys that sink. Depending on their comfort, they can practice submersion, reaching, etc. You could even bring a plastic cup and practice getting their face wet and let them get your face wet. Make it fun!

For adults, this is a great time to practice without your instructor staring at you for 30 min. This is free range. Figure out what feels good to you. Get comfortable with your body and how it moves in the water. The more you do it, the easier it will come. Swimming once a week may not be enough to make the progress you want to make, but even just getting in the water and floating or kicking for 15min outside of class can drastically help you progress.

I have been swimming all my life, I am in the water all the time for work, and I still enjoy going to an open swim time to keep up my endurance. I learn something about myself every time I go. You will too.

For more info on our open swim times, click the button above!

Bathtub Practice

Bathtub Practice

Sounds ridiculous right? You can’t swim in a bathtub. In the case of comfortability, the ability to even be around water (pool or no pool) is important. You can do a lot from play to breath control. In almost everything that you do, finding a way to practice aspects of what you’re learning outside of the actual facility you’d be performing in can help. Home is a wonderful place to practice almost anything. This is where you are probably the most comfortable and have the least pressure. Your child will be in the same position.

Bathtub practice is very beneficial for all ages. For children, this is a good time to connect water with play. Here are some steps to take during bath time!

Use toys such a ducks, dolls, animals, etc. and have your child give them a swimming lesson. Have them practice what the teacher will most likely do with them. Encourage your child to have the toy go underwater like, “Lets see if the blue duck can go under the sea!” Have your child use the 1-2-3 cues that the teacher would also use. Using pretend and play is a great way to get a child to get more comfortable with something if they feel like their the one in control.

Whether your child is 4 months-old or 4 years-old, different versions of splashing can be fun! Use a plastic cup or Tupperware bowl to pour water on your chid’s head. We do this during lessons with out “Rain Buckets.” Most of my kids LOVE them.

Make sure you always use the 1-2-3 cue and start from the back of their head and move forward towards their face.  This is a great way to get them used to the feeling of water on their face. Singing a song can be helpful as the water is being poured on their head. Personally, I like to use “Rain, Rain Go Away,” or “Its Raining, It’s Pouring.”

If they are maybe not ready for water being dunked on their head try singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Have them slash their hands and kick their feet. Again, make it fun!!

You could also have your swimmer use the cup/bucket themselves, and have them splash their own face, head, or even body. If they are not yet comfortable getting their head wet, work your way up. Start by having them get their toes splashed, followed by their knees, then their belly, etc. working your way up to their head for the final Splash!

Once they have mastered the previous steps, have them put their face in the water (with your supervision, of course) and have them practice holding their breath. This is way they are the ones in control of their bodies and able to gain some confidence. Start by giving them a goal. “Lets put your face in for 3 seconds!” When they do it, bump it up to 5, then maybe 7! Make it a fun challenge-a game!

These are just a few ways to get your young ones to get more comfortable in the water. Still want more comfort tips? Check out part three: Open Swim!

Talk at home

Talk at home

Swimming lessons have many benefits such as safety, coordination, confidence, developmental advantages, and more. But what if your child is reluctant, nervous, or even scared?

As an instructor, I see the wide spectrum of confidence when it comes to lessons. I have two-year-olds who are fearless and would jump in with or without an instructor there if not watched closely. I have a twelve-year-old who has never swum and can’t stand the thought of swimming on his back. I even have adults who are too afraid to hold their breath for more than ten seconds. Every other day I get the same question; is there anything I can do to help myself or my child feel more comfortable? The simple answer is, yes.

Make connections. One way you can help is by talking about it at home. Glamorize it. Being nervous could come from a number of things. If it’s because of a new instructor, use their name when you mention swimming so that they can make a positive connection between the swimming and the person teaching the lesson. Tell them what you like about the instructor. “I like that Mrs. Elizabeth uses toys during swim lessons. What do you like about Mrs. Elizabeth?”

Mention some of the skills that they do in the class. “Wow! Your back floats look awesome! I bet you could do one for 10 seconds next class!” These are words of encouragement that your instructors will be using too, so hearing it again from their parents would be great!

Playing dress up can help as well. Have them put on their cap and goggles at home. Make it exciting and playful so that when they arrive at swim lessons and are getting dressed, they remember the fun they had at home with their swimming gear. Connections are crucial! I have a student that loves the water, but he always has a hard time in the locker room. Putting on all of the gear before lessons makes him anxious. The second he gets in the water and starts swimming; all of those nerves go away. Some students may just not like the anticipation.

There are really two sides of everything. Not everything that you do at swim lessons should stay at swim lessons. Take the lessons with you, talk about them, reflect with your child, and have fun! As an instructor, I love hearing that my students love swimming lessons so much that they talk about it at home. Truly, being patient with your child is the most important.

Want more comfort tips? Check out part two: Bathtub practice!