You’re eager to get your child started in swimming lessons, and can’t wait for them to gain new skills and become safer around water. But your child, on the other hand, doesn’t seem on board at all. In fact, your little one is expressing a fear of swimming and is downright resistant about getting in their swimsuit or even talking about their upcoming class.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
If so, you’re not alone. It’s completely normal for young children to feel apprehensive about beginning swim classes, especially if being in the water is new to them or if they’ve had a scary experience in a pool before.
The first thing to remember is that children’s feelings need to be validated. Whether we understand their fears or not, it’s important we don’t dismiss what they tell us or try to make them suppress their true feelings. You can reflect back what they say to you so they understand that you’ve heard them, by saying something like: “I see. You’re scared about starting swim class because you don’t like getting your head wet and you’re worried your new teacher will make you get your head wet.” Simply knowing they’ve been heard might be enough to calm them down.
After you’ve validated their feelings, here are a few more ideas to turn your anxious toddler into a confident one.
Gain Trust with the Teacher
Entering a new environment (the pool) and interacting with a new person (the teacher) while learning new things can be overwhelming. Instead of tossing all of this at your child at once, set up a separate time to meet with your swim instructor outside of the swimming lesson setting. Even if it’s just five minutes of introduction and casual conversation, seeing the teacher’s smiling face and sensing their warmth in a non-threatening situation can do a lot to assuage your little one’s fear.
Be an Observer
Swimming lessons can also seem scary for kids because they don’t know what to expect. They might have heard someone tell an offhand story once about having to hold their breath for a long time underwater and might be thinking this is what’s going to happen to them. Children often hear, absorb, and internalise the things that others say, so it’s important you reset their expectations. With the goal of helping your anxious child, go to the swim school one week before you plan to start your child's lessons. Sit on the sidelines and watch an entire class. Take opportunities to point out fun things the kids are doing, and let your little one see with their own eyes that splashing, jumping, singing and having a great time are all part of swim lessons. Who knows – this could be enough to turn their anxiety into genuine excitement.
Beyond this, you can incorporate positive rewards in order to help motivate your little one to go to class and participate. For example, maybe you tell your child you will take them to their favourite lunch place after their first class is over to celebrate their accomplishment. After all, just showing up is half the battle. Or when your little one masters a milestone, like a back float, for the first time, perhaps you could give them a new colouring book as a way to say, “great job!” As long as you make sure you’re rewarding with appropriate incentives for positive behaviour (and not using food or toys as bribery), rewards can be a helpful tool to have in your arsenal.
These tips should help get your anxious toddler more excited about being in the pool, and help to lessen their fears too. Start early, take it slow, and allow space for trust to develop. Taking slow steps forward in the beginning prevents many steps backwards. If you have still have questions about helping your little one or about our programs, please contact us anytime. We’re here to help your child become a confident and happy little swimmer!