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Preparing your toddler for swimming class: Tips for parents to prepare your child before lessons

Is your child afraid or very reluctant to attend swimming lessons?

As coaches, this is probably the most common reason we see teary and upset faces at the pool.

In our earlier piece “Preparing your pandemic baby for infant swim lessons: Tips for new parents”, we wrote about how to condition your baby so that they can fully enjoy baby swim classes and water experiences.

Even if your child has never gone for baby classes or if they have and yet are – mysteriously – resisting lessons as a toddler, we can help.

Here are some tips that will help you help your child to feel safe during lessons, allowing him to enjoy swimming and the fun of water play during lessons.

Here’s a 4-step process that you can follow to prepare your young child for swimming class:

Step 1: Understand their fear

Communicate – and help your child do so as well. Find out what it is specifically that they dislike through simple questions and observing their reactions to items or circumstances associated with swim lessons.

Coach Xun Wei engaging with Isaiah before lesson and getting him warmed up by talking about Chase from Paw Patrol.

Perhaps it is the size of the swimming pool that intimidates them, or it could be a bad memory of choking on water or even something as simple as disliking the feeling of having water in their eyes or ears.

Fear of swimming, bathing and the intense aversion to water running down their face is common amongst toddlers. It often shows up – sometimes, unexpectedly – around the ages of 12 to 24 months. Some paediatricians suggest that this is a natural reaction to the hyper-awareness that children have towards their surroundings at this age. (In certain cases, this can take a while, but be patient and trust the process!)

Step 2: Reassure them

Once you’ve identified their dislikes, it becomes easier to help them feel more comfortable as you can now start to address the issue.

Let them know that it is okay to be scared, and encourage them to give lessons a shot. Sometimes they just need your reassurance to help them feel safe and confident enough to do so. If they have tried it once and show their dislike, do not force them to repeat it.

Instead, give your child a few days (to forget) and then prompt them to give it another shot next week.

If you have access to a pool, try taking your child into the water with you for a parent-child bonding session of plain ol’ fun. As they start to associate swimming with fun, it becomes an easy introduction during the actual lesson.

Toys are an invaluable distraction. This was Isaiah’s second time at the pool. Less than 10 minutes later, he was floating comfortably with Coach Lockie in the water.

You can also model the action for your child by doing it first and allowing them to watch you from a comfortable place. Show them that you are enjoying it! This may also lower their defenses.

Step 3: Start easy and take it slow

Some children just need more time to feel comfortable, and this may not happen within the day. Take baby steps each time and continue to encourage and praise along the way.

You can choose to challenge your child or push them a little out of their comfort zone, but an all-out battle of wills is not going to benefit anyone. Consistency is key.

Instead, try longer bath times where they can explore the feeling of water in the tub freely. Throw in more toys like scoops and sinkers.

Water play has a huge value that cannot be underestimated. Even if your child engages in sensory water play while mostly dry, they learn and observe water characteristics which makes it more familiar – and less scary.

If space allows, try increasing the size of the tub or bring them to the pool and start getting them comfortable sitting in shoulder-deep water. (Parental supervision is very important!) This will help them get used to the feeling of being in deep(er) water.

Step 4: Offer rewards and keep the conversation going

It’s not a bribe for good behaviour during lesson time, but those good vibes never hurt anyone. Talk your child through the plan for the day and remind them of what they can look forward to after they finish the lesson.

Continue talking about swimming lessons during the week. Affirm them of the effort you noticed or help them to recall parts of the class which they enjoyed. This helps them build confidence and positive expectations towards lesson time.

Most importantly, however, keep your cool and don’t let swimming lessons become an unpleasant experience for either of you.

As seasoned coaches, we have an extensive array of resources and expertise to help you get your child water safe, so feel free to get in touch HERE if you have any questions.


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