Summer brings the swim lesson business to the crescendo of the swimming year. Everyone wants a quick fix to help their child be pool safe and ready to play in the country club, neighborhood or backyard pool. Some children do not have a natural affinity for the water. A few reasons children often become timid in pool water are; tubes in their ears, they had a bad previous lesson experience, or they just have never liked the water. Whatever the reason for not liking to swim or to get wet, it does not mitigate the need for them to be safe and learn to swim.
To help parents with the reluctant child, we offer these suggestions, all of which are based on the need for consistency and structure in the swim lesson experience.
- Consistency is very important. Once lessons begin, keep going no matter what the child does, says or acts out. If a child cries that they want mommy, we reply, “But your mommy brought you to me to learn how to swim”. Instructors are experience in working with a child’s reluctance in the pool. They use proven techniques to aid children in overcoming their fears. To help your child through the learning process, don’t give up or give in. If you stop after one or two lessons then you have confirmed the child’s fear that there is something wrong. It also confirms to the child, if I throw a big enough fit I will get my way. Be strong Mom or Dad!
- Be consistent with the number of sessions that you take. If you stop after the first set of lessons, take a two week or month break, you will likely fall back to the behavior of lessons session #1. If you have access to a pool and the child is in the water, they will not regress as much, but the structure of the lesson helps with the more rapid development. The more reluctant the child the more important this back to back to back consistency is. Once you have overcome their initial reluctance it is important to move to step 2, not fall back.
- To help the instructor be consistent with your timid child, after the first day disappear from the child’s line of sight. If the child is crying then promise him or her you will come back to watch when they stop crying. As long as you are on the pool deck near the child they will try to play on your emotions to get them out of the water and their focus is away from the child’s teacher and the skills of the day. The lack of control is one of the most unsettling parts of the strange pool environment for the timid child. You being close by gives them the hope of regaining control and they will not settle into the routine of the class.
- Arriving at the pool early gives the child a chance to acclimate and prepare mentally for the class. It also gives them a chance to watch other kids playing and having an opportunity to enjoy the water. It is really difficult to run into the pool and get thrown into a lesson that is already underway with a stranger for a teacher and a bunch of kids they do not know.
- Praise every micro step. It might not seem like a big deal to you when your child puts their mouth in the water and blows a bubble, but to the child and teacher it is a huge step forward. Positive reinforcement is a must.
- June and July are the height of the swim lesson business. If you go to Disneyworld in June you would expect big crowds. The same is true at the swimming pool. If you want a more relaxed approach with fewer students start your lessons after the holidays. Classes are smaller, and the pool is quieter and cooler. By June, your student will be ready for the summer pool season.
- Do not be embarrassed. Your child is the 15th or 20th child of the day that has thrown a fit. A well-run swim school is trained to handle the “reluctant” student and can accommodate you and your child. The only people who say “my child would never act like that” are people who do not have children. Every other parent at the pool has been down your path at least once.
There are no natural swimming students. Even an Olympic swimmer, had to learn to swim from someone and somewhere. Take the opportunity to make it a positive experience. Overcoming fear is how strong self images are created. You are not just teaching your child to swim, you are providing a launching pad for a confident adult by teaching them they can overcome obstacles.
We wish you and your child the very best with your swimming experience.