It is very common to find a 2-4 year old who has been a confident and happy baby in the water, all of a sudden become ‘fearful’ or doesn’t enjoy the water for a period of time. We often say to parents, you may feel your child is taking a step backwards in regards to swimming, but cognitively they are taking leaps ahead. They are starting to process what is happening to them. Two and three year olds are yearning for independence but when that potential independence is something they can’t have full control over, they don’t understand. Or…their creative thinking starts to deepen and they think more critically about what they are doing and how their body responds to this strange activity of moving through water. This cognitive thought then transfers in to their behaviour in the pool through tantrums, withdrawal, or a ‘fear’ of submerging.
What to do about it?
Move away from activity. After you have attempted the activity the class is working through, we encourage parents to move your child away from the activity if they are becoming really unsettled and to do something they enjoy or have control over. Safety is still of upmost importance so having boundaries over what they can and can’t do, will actually give them more security in the end.
Let them watch: Sometimes just letting them watch what the others are doing (sometimes weeks!) allows their little over active minds process the activity(s) and you will find they eventually join in. If doing circle games and songs and all they want to do is cuddle, let them. Turn so they can see what is going on while still getting security of cuddling Mum/Dad but also learning by watching.
Change lesson time. Maybe the time of the day is too close to their day sleep and therefore they are too tired to get anything out of it. Just ask us if there is another time available for their age/ability.
Keep persevering (but don’t push them too much). Be positive about swimming lessons or the activity you are on, attempt it, but move on if they are still upset.
Relax. If your child is going through this natural developmental phase and you’re worried about it, your tension will only be passed on to your child. Our Teachers have seen it all before and many others would have experienced it with their own children. Just smile, have fun and remember, like everything, it’s just a phase!
Have a break. Have a break from lessons, but still go swimming at the local pool for fun so that they continue water exposure.
Talk positively: Talk about swimming lessons away from the pool during the week. You could even show them some videos of children swimming and enjoying the water to show them it can be safe and fun.
Persevere: The Teacher has also seen this before and has lots of strategies up their sleeves to help them to enjoy the water. At SwimSense, we encourage submersion but only when they are ready and conditioned to do this.
Swim for leisure: Make swimming a fun family activity to do and then talk about the correlation between lessons.
Talk with the Teacher: We are very happy to discuss your child and their swimming, so please ask any questions and let us know their special interests etc to help us engage them.
Don’t forget, that while they are going through this, they are learning that you are there for them, to help and guide them through the beginning of life’s tough adventures and that with support they can achieve the challenging tasks that life throws at them. Plus, don’t forget they will still be working through all of the benefits of swimming. (link to benefits of swimming)
We started giving Kate swimming lessons when she was 6 months old. Having been a competitive swimmer I was keen to give her early water exposure. Plus it was a nice excuse to get out of the house, especially during winter! She was tentative to start, but after a few lessons we got to see smiles and enjoyment. Kate soon enjoyed falling off the side of the pool to her humpty dumptys. After about a year, the swim school we were at didn’t have lessons that suited her sleep so we moved pools. She was happy for the first half of the term at the new swim school, but then a switch was turned. She started crying when we did certain things and would cling to me. This once-confident wee girl who submerged and emerged with a smile, didn’t want to do any of it anymore. The teacher mentioned that some children freak out about depth of the water, and if they can’t touch it, they start the deeper, creative thinking about what that means (especially when I SOOOO want to do this myself!).
At times I was a bit embarrassed of having the girl who cried at everything. But we talked with the Teacher and (sent my husband a couple of times!), and we eventually got there. Kate now loves the water and has the confidence and skills to get back to the side of the pool if she needed to (aged 4.5 years).