My Child Doesn’t Like Swimming Lessons

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Many thanks to Julia Ham from Hampton Swim School & TumbleTastics for this article.

Tears in the Pool

No parent likes to see their child’s tears, and a common reaction of parents to tears in a swim lesson is to become panicked or embarrassed over the way the child is behaving, or instead to think “my child just doesn’t like the water”. Parents need to be aware of the potential reactions of their child in a swim lesson, and they need to understand why such reactions occur and how to apply appropriate solutions that ensure the lesson is both enjoyable and beneficial to their child.

Babies who fear the water

If you have a young baby, swim lessons can interfere with their sleep or feeding routine. Signs that this is the case may include rubbing eyes, falling asleep, or baby indicating a need for milk/food. If this is happening, parents should check for alternative class times or try and adjust their routines accordingly.

Swim lessons expose an infant to a completely new environment. The involvement with other parents and children, the noises generated through laughter, singing and splashing, and the immersion in the water itself, all add up to a completely different sensory experience. Take small steps if your baby is overwhelmed. Talk to your baby in a calm and positive manner, maintain close skin and eye contact, and focus solely on one activity at a time.

Babies should be placed in classes with others of similar age, to ensure activities they complete are developmentally appropriate. If babies are placed in classes with older children, the Instructor should be aware of age differences, and adjust the program and activities for the numerous age levels within the class.

Finally, if your baby cries, at all costs avoid getting out of the pool prematurely out of frustration or your own feelings of embarrassment. Stay in the pool, find a quiet area, and take a little bit of time to comfort baby, then rejoin the class as soon as baby is calm. If you exit the pool whenever your baby cries, baby will associate becoming upset with getting out of the pool, or indeed will learn to associate crying with having an activity stopped (a bad habit when it comes to going to day care or preschool). Remember, it is normal for a child to occasionally become upset during a swim lesson.

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Toddler Tantrums during swimming lessons

Toddlers around 15 months old who, through a lack of exposure to aquatic-based experiences, have lost their affinity to water are more likely to be fearful of water than babies who have been in the water from say 3-6 months.

To help prevent the development of this kind of anxiety around water, parents should try to make the regular bath/shower/pool times they share with their baby as fun, secure, and as relaxing as possible. Avoid pushing too hard in water-related activities, and be playful and patient.

Another way to calm an upset child of this age in the water is through distraction. Toys are excellent stimulants and provide a wonderful distraction. The use of noise, through tapping or singing for example, is also effective. Talk, and particularly soothing and reassuring talk, is a vital component of making your tot feel comfortable and at ease in the water.

If your child is strong-willed and the type that seems to prefer to do his/her own thing in lessons rather than what you or the instructor wants, remain firm with your child, and persist with activities that challenge them. Such lack of challenge may be seen through tantrums, boredom or misbehaviour. Ignore the negative behaviour, and focus on the positive behaviour of your child.

Pre-school Aged Kids who don’t like the pool

Pre-school aged children might have a genuine fear, which is normally a result of a previous bad experience in water, starting lessons with limited exposure to water, or through parental fears which the child has learned by association. Young children absorb so much of their parent’s reactions, and are very in tune with the facial expressions, body language, and spoken language of their parents. If a child hears things like, ‘don’t go near the water, you’ll drown” or “it’s dangerous”, their own attitude to water will be negative.

At this age, parents may either be in the water with their child, or the child may be independent without a parent. Use positive language and maintain a watchful but relaxed attitude near water. Talk to your child at home about lessons and their Instructor. If you are anxious yourself around water, consider taking some adult classes to improve your own water confidence and skills, so that you can comfortably be in the water with your child.

Frightened children need to be treated differently, and require small steps and a special amount of patience and time to be able to explore the water environment at their own pace. Any unnecessary force I believe is totally unacceptable.

Always try to end the lesson on a happy note, so the child remembers their time in the water as a positive experience.

Communication is key!

Communication with your Instructor and Swim School is vital. Swim Instructors are trained to be able to provide alternative activities to cater for the level of a child, so parents need not be afraid to ask for advice. If you Swim School has a Pool Deck Coordinator, they are available to work with your Instructor and your child to make you and your child them feel as comfortable as possible whilst in the water.

Your Swim School may offer a specialised program, which caters for timid or non-confident swimmers, of any age. Programs such Hampton Swim School’s ‘Not Happy Chappies’ have a streamlined, systemised structure to gain success; from identification, communication mechanisms and parent support strategies, both in and out of the pool, including homework tasks to assist the settling in process.

Such programs assist to transition your Not Happy Chappie into a comfortable and settled swimmer, who is happy to be part of swim lessons and learn life long skills in the water.

Julia Ham is the owner of Hampton Swim School & TumbleTastics, Brisbane.

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