Before Your Lessons: Overcoming Fear in a First-Time Swimmer
Maybe you’re one lesson, maybe you haven’t started yet, or maybe you are on your fourth day of classes. Regardless of the time frame, if you have noticed that your child is a fearful swimmer, fear not! Here at MGR, we are here to help you ease into your lessons. Below, we’ve compiled 10 ways that you can help your swimmer relax and become less fearful of the water.
1. Make Bathtime Learning Time
Instead of focusing on washing and playing, add in some songs or techniques that were learned during swim practice. That could include as little as splashing water on the hair, floating on the back, blowing bubbles, or submerging the face quickly. This being said, it’s important you watch your instructor during practice to see what words they use or what techniques they are using to help swimmers achieve their goals.
2. Build Trust with your Instructor
Listen to what the instructor has to say at the end of class; this can often include any behavioral issues during class or anything the instructor advises can be done at home to help. Feel free to ask quick questions on deck or even ask the instructor if you can call if you have any other questions. We are always open to emails as well and can respond as quickly as possible, often within the next 48 hours. Trust that your instructor knows what they are doing and if you don’t, feel free to ask them motives behind what they are doing. Try to avoid any negative speech on your concerns regarding your child’s progress if the child is present; make this conversation one on the phone or over email.
3. Return Calls from Instructors
Welcome calls are the most important calls of the session, as this is when the instructor learns from you what your child likes or doesn’t like, any behavioral issues, and your child’s experience. Use this time to express any concerns you have and to make sure your instructor knows that your child is a first time swimmer. If you know your child doesn’t like water in their eyes, make sure you let the instructor know before class starts. During the session, we also provide progress calls, which are also important. If you notice continued fear from your child, open the line of communication with your instructor so you can both establish a game plan. Returning any missed calls is always important, and if you can’t find time to call, feel free to email them, and they may be able to answer you outside of normal hours.
4. Excite Your Child
If your child notices you tensing up everytime you attend practice because you dread them screaming during class, they’re going to notice and feel even more tense. Get your child excited for class, get them ready early, talk about swim class, play fun music in the car on the way to class! There are many ways, and you know how to excite your child best, so use your best tools to get your child smiling and happy before even arriving at practice!
5. Possibly, Removing Yourself
One of the tactics I have used before, and many other instructors have also used, is often asking the parents to step out. Occasionally with younger children, they are crying because they can see their parents in the vicinity but are not with them. Instructors may ask parents to step outside of the child’s direct line of sight, where you can watch from the outside, and that can help a child relax significantly.
6. Bring Someone Special
If your child is super close to grandma or grandpa, or maybe they have a favorite cousin, having someone special on deck for them to see may offer some comfort. Children who are fearful and reserved may open up in front of a special friend or relative and feel like they should over-perform in order to impress their favorite person (besides you, of course!).
7. Bring a Toy or Snack
Bribing is a little on the iffy side for many parents, but bringing a toy that they can use when game time arrives may ease their tension. If their toy is nearby and they can see it on the pool edge, it may feel comforting to them. Bringing their favorite snack to enjoy after practice, outside of the pool deck, may also soothe them, as they have something to look forward to if they try their best!
Maintaining good, strong attendance will help a child develop a sense of scheduling and repetition that is important for younger children to become more accustomed to the water. We know, sometimes you have to miss, but if you can avoid missing, it will help your child in the long run develop trust with their instructor as well as become used to being in the pool area. Which leads us to our next point…
9. Exposure to Pools
If you have a pool in the neighborhood or a family member or family friend has one, just visiting the pool can help a swimmer become more acclimated to the environment. Putting their feet in, even if they don’t get in completely, can be a big step for a fearful swimmer. Seeing other kids enjoy swimming and splashing around having fun can encourage a fearful swimmer to try to have fun as well. If you don’t have pool access, remember that the city has free public pools during the summer, and there are small plastic pools available at stores for low prices! Considering summer is almost over, remember to invest in bathtime as a learning opportunity and engage them actively during bathtime!
10. Become More Involved
If your child is under 3 years old, with MGR, we qualify you and your swimmer for our Exploration class, which is a parent and swimmer class, where a guardian or parent is able to enter the water with their swimmer. An instructor may recommend this class to a child who is fearful and possibly fights getting into the pool with them. If your child is over 3 years old, they are no longer eligible for this class, but the instructor may suggest that you sit next to them during class, or possibly you even putting your feet in or near the water. Sometimes, with kids who are highly attached to their parents (we get it, we were too!) having your parent right next to you is all you need to ease the tears away and get ready for a fun swim class.
As always, we wish you the best of luck with your swimming classes and we can’t wait for your fearful swimmer to grow into a strong, confident swimmer, as we are sure they will!