It’s the first swimming lesson for your young child. Your child seemed ready for his/her first lesson growing more excited as the day arrived. But as soon as you walked through the door, the tears began.
It may not help but you’re not alone in feeling bad for your child but also a little embarrassed that all of this drama is taking place. You really didn’t want anything to happen to make a spectacle of your debut at swim school.
This is pretty common. A child who is very excited about a future event, can suddenly feel overwhelmed when the moment actually arrives.
Do you know why the tears come?
This is a natural part of growing up. As your child matures he/she will do more and more things independent of you, You won’t be right there to catch, encourage or correct him/her. Even if you’re simply at poolside, your child has been accustomed to being able to reach out and touch you. When the natural course of growing up takes that away, it can be surprising to your child and probably a little difficult.
Being in the water – and especially in the pool where lessons are given – is a new experience in a new environment. Your child is experiencing new sensations that are exciting and a little frightening at the same time. This simply takes getting used to.
Children learn and progress at their own pace. Your child is no different. Your child’s tears may dry up when they see others enjoying the water or experience how good it feels to splash about in the water. Or it could take them a few lessons to develop the level of comfort they need to happily approach lesson time.
The magic number of lessons that it takes to clear up the tears is 4. This gives even the most dramatic child enough time to develop trust in the instructor.
Does your child have special needs?
For some children, this experience is a little different. Special needs children, including those with Down syndrome, autism, sensory issues, ADHD, issues with motor skills or other concerns, the tears can be driven by other factors.
Trained swim school instructors are skilled to help all types of children who find the first lesson challenging and that includes special needs children. They’ve not only been trained in how these children may be feeling and what can be bothering them, but also in how to approach them and encourage them to learn skills that they will enjoy for their lifetime. They can also make suggestions that will help you to encourage them and to practice their new skills at home.
What will help your tearful child?
Here are 8 things you can do to help your child through swim lesson tears:
1. Stay in the viewing area but out of the direct line of sight for your child. Children tend to acclimated more easily and quickly if they can’t see you. Your child must build trust with his/her instructor but they can’t compete with you. If they see you, they will want the immediate security you offer. After building just a little trust – without you in view – your child can focus on how much fun he/she is having in the water.
2. Support and encourage – continuously. You may find this a little contradictory to staying out of direct view, but it works. Your child will turn around and look for you for encouragement and show you what they’ve learned. When they do, be ready with a quick thumbs up. After the lesson is over, you can take center stage and their biggest fan and supporter. Congratulate on extraordinary results and provide plenty of praise for a job well-done on the ride home and when you get home and tell the other parent and siblings about the lesson.
3. Reinforce the positive. Getting in the water, not crying, learning new skills, listening to the instructor… celebrate all of this and your child will be more likely repeat the positive action at the next lesson. A gentle reminder of all of this positivity just prior to the next lesson will help your child remember what he/she should do again.
4. Practice at home. Whether or not you have a pool, you can practice swimming skills between lessons. In lieu of a pool, you can use your tub, before you add soap. Ask your child’s instructor for dry land practice activities and you can practice anywhere! The more comfortable your child becomes with water, new skills and doing activities independently of you, the better he/she will do in swimming lessons.
5. Never offer bribes for positive activity. While it may be likely to accomplish what you want in the short-term, bribes are not a positive way to condition your child for the long-term. It will only a lesson or two and your child will be excitedly running through the swim school door. Be patient and let that happen. The bribes just muddy the water and confuse the child about why they are taking lessons in the first place.
6. Keep coming to lessons through the initial tears. If you stop the child’s lessons because he/she cries, it not only shows your child that quitting without really trying is acceptable, but it also shows them that swimming isn’t very important. This is far from the truth since swimming is an important lifelong skill that all children should learn.
7. Keep your anxiety to yourself. No one wants to see their child upset but just giving them a little space and a little leeway to discover how much fun something can be is just what they need. In order for this process to take place, your child cannot see any hint of anxiety in you. If you’re relaxed, he/she will see that and react to it. Being calm when you try to calm an upset child always works best.
8. Swim, swim, swim. Take every opportunity for your child to swim. When you’re vacationing, visiting friends or relatives with pools or making time to go to community pools. Help them to experience other types of water fun at lakes and beaches. Of course, water safety should be top of mind when taking advantage of all of these opportunities. And keep your child in swimming lessons so that he can become proficient at this important life skill. Your child will learn to love the water and the fun activities they can do in and around it.
It is exciting for you to watch your child grow up! Progressing through swimming skills helps your child to grow in so many ways besides simply learning to swim. Your role in helping them through their first lesson tears will set them on a path to all sorts of success.