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How to send your crying toddler for swim lessons: Practical tips for parents

Trust the process. It takes young swimmers some time to get used to being in the water with a new person, but we can get you through this. Read on for tips on how to prepare your teary and anxious little one for swimming.

Little children wear their emotions on their sleeves. If they are happy, you’ll know it. If they’re upset, you’ll definitely hear it. (Sometimes, it is surprising how fast those emotions change!)

We get the full range of the spectrum at the pool and we know it’s all part and parcel of growing up.

But we also know that dealing with these emotions can be draining and stressful – especially when it comes to structured lessons.

Coach Lockie trying (unsuccessfully) to remove 3-year-old Isaiah’s pacifier as he cried throughout this lesson.

Isaiah (pictured above) has a curious deal with swimming: He loves pool-time at home, but during his first swimming lesson with Red Dot Penguins, the 3-year-old cried his way through his lesson with Coach Lockie.

One week later, it was a tentative, but dry-eyed boy who went for class and eventually managed some smiles during lesson.

2.5-year-old Mattheus has a rather different story. Unlike Isaiah, Mattheus attended infant swim lessons when he was only 7 months old. However, his mum stopped after only a few lessons. And over the next year or so, he developed a fear of water. (Find out why this is not an uncommon experience here.)

He started his trial lesson bawling for mummy and daddy before Coach Nat soon managed to win his trust and take him into the pool.

Little Matteus and Coach Nat towards the end of their first lesson together. Mattheus’ parents are in the background providing him with moral support.

Remember, you are not alone.

We are here to help your child make the most of his or her swimming journey and be introduced to the amazing water world.

(If your little one is 36 months and under, click here to read more age-relevant tips.)

During the week: “Talk up” swimming with your child

Talk about swim lessons at home and during the week. Acknowledge your child’s fear and use phrases such as “When you are in the water, I will be cheering you on.” and “Your teacher is there to keep you safe.”

You can also talk about what swimming is, explain why you are sending them for lessons and even how much fun they can have once they know how to swim.

Isaiah’s parents make it a point to remind him of his upcoming lessons. They also talk to him about how the pool at home and at YMCA are similar, and about how much fun he will have with Coach Lockie.

Pre-class pep-talk: Get your child excited

(Or at the very least, mentally prepared for class.)

Mattheus’ parents also do the same thing. Though, in his case, it’s about “saving the ducks” and “playtime with Coach Nat”.

It’s all mood-dependent though. Sometimes, Mattheus agrees enthusiastically and other times, it’s an outright rejection. But his mum says she just takes it in her stride and asks him the same question again the next day.

Mattheus “saving” the rubber ducks that he threw into the water. After Mattheus’ second lesson, he started telling his parents (on good days) that “I only want Coach Nat!”

Before the lesson, get your child to pick out one of their favourite toys to bring to class and show their instructor. This can get them excited to see their instructor and help them bond before entering the water.

On his second lesson, Isaiah chose his favourite bath toy to take with him to the pool: A small blue bus. This helped him break the ice with Coach Lockie and they ended the lesson on a good note.
At the pool: Arrive for lessons in “good” time

“Good” because there’s a small window of time where the magic happens. From experience, 10 to 20 minutes before the scheduled time is ideal.

Timing your arrival to just before the lesson starts is not recommended. The rush might get everyone into a huff, raising tensions and stress levels. On the flip side, coming too early will give your child excess time to get worked up and emotional.

Isaiah, the chosen blue bus in hand, with his mummy observing ongoing lessons.

Mattheus getting his goggles fitted by Coach Nat before their second lesson together.
During the lesson: Trust the instructor you’ve hired

As hard as it is to leave your upset child, very often, the best thing parents can do is to create some space and wait a distance away.

If you are having a hard time hearing your child cry, distract yourself. Sometimes crying swimmers want mom or dad to look at them for attention. It can be helpful to avoid eye contact in those situations.

For calmer but anxious children, try walking your child to his coach and handing him over. The physical action is important as it shows your child that you trust his coach.

Happily gliding through the water with Coach Lockie on his second lesson.

Your child can sense when you are calm, which will in turn, reassure them and give them the space to develop trust in their teacher.

In short, swimming lessons can be like the first day you left your child at daycare. Some children will confidently run off with their new friends and have great adventures, while other children might feel afraid and they make sure everyone knows it.

More confusingly, they might even be okay with day care and not okay with swimming lessons.

For toddlers who are new to swimming lessons, it can be an overwhelming experience: New environment. Unfamiliar situation. New instructor(aka a complete stranger!).

This is a lot for most children to process in such a short time.

If your child cries during lessons, rest assured that they are in good hands. Our instructors will work hard to establish a connection with your child and are trained to begin a positive routine that works well with kids of all ages.

We want to help and support you through this process of getting your child water safe.

Contact us for a free trial for your little swimmer. Or if you have a question you would like answered, feel free to get in touch here.


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