When Kids Hate Swimming Lessons: Throw In The Towel?
If you’re a parent to a waterproof kid, enrolling them in swimming lessons can almost feel cruel. In the UK, however, swimming is part of the National Curriculum, so they’re going to get wet one way or another. But if they’re howling week after week, what should you do?
- Force them to carry on?
- Or quit and live a more peaceful life?
There are a lot of possibilities in between. A quality swimming teacher can help you and your child work through some of the options below before you cancel your lessons. So let’s walk through some solutions.
What’s causing the problem?
Children may dislike swimming lessons for various reasons.
Some of the most common are:
- Sensory sensitivity/facilities
- Water phobia
- Lack of coordination and/or confidence
- Body image
Any one of these can be enough to put a child off swimming. If you are aware that your child has difficulty with any of these issues, do let the teacher know. Once a teacher knows more about how a student is feeling, they can implement strategies to help the student overcome a specific problem.
1. Sensory difficulties
Water can be challenging. One of the main criteria for advancing in swimming lessons is being able to tolerate water on the face or over the head, and eventually submerging entirely. For a child who hates that feeling, the whole thing can be overwhelming. Setting small goals, such as getting the chin or lips wet, can help them work towards submersion.
Some children dislike the whole pool experience. The feel of the wet tiles, the coldness of the water, the humidity of the air, the echoing of sound—swimming baths can be a place of extremes. For these kids, we need to think about other things besides what happens in the water.
Swim socks are a good option for kids who dislike getting their feet on the poolside or the pool floor. If they feel shivery in the water, consider a long-sleeved swim top. That little barrier can also help them feel a bit less vulnerable.
If the pool is still just a bit much for your child, consider changing facilities. A smaller pool or a warmer one might be a better fit. At Swim Now, we tend to use small hotel pools for lessons, which are usually kept warmer than public baths. Private sessions are quieter, too.
2. Fear of the water
Aquaphobia can come out of the blue, so to speak. But usually, it’s down to:
- A water-related accident in the past
- A swimming lesson gone wrong
- A parent’s voiced fears about drowning
- General anxiety
Overcoming fear and anxiety takes time, just like sensory sensitivity. A teacher can reduce the pace of the lesson to accommodate the time needed to mentally prepare for each activity. They can also check-in and reassure an anxious child. This lets the child know the teacher is aware of them.
Lastly, the teacher can adjust their position in the pool. A very anxious swimmer may start in the corner, where they have two walls nearby. Gradually they may begin to do the exercises farther away from the walls as the anxiety lessens.
3. Lacks confidence in their coordination
A child who lacks confidence in their coordination could be resistant to attending swimming lessons. Swimming the full strokes and completing aquatic skills requires:
These skills are built up over time in a lesson programme. A good teacher will provide a wide variety of:
- Demonstrations – on the side, or in the water
- Explanations – descriptions, metaphors, even some physics!
- Examples – showing how the muscle groups work, or how skills link together
- Opportunities – different ways of doing the same skill to give everyone a chance to get it right
If your kid is struggling with a specific skill or feeling left behind, speak to the teacher about it. They can give it a bit of thought. Be prepared, though. They might give you some homework!
4. Body image
Body image is a big killer of enthusiasm for all ages. At the swimming pool, it can be a major problem because of swimwear. First and foremost, make sure you know what the pool’s policy on bullying is. It should be zero tolerance. If it is anything else, consider speaking to management.
If your child has body image anxiety, speak to the teacher. A good teacher is never going to make judgmental comments about the bodies of students. With permission, the teacher may explain to your child that they will make corrections at times about what the body is doing. For example, they may ask a student to kick their legs faster, or to try to turn their head to the side to breathe.
Be on the lookout for any instructors who talk about:
- Keeping the body a particular shape for swimming
- Any commentary on children’s body size
This is inappropriate for kids’ swimming lessons.
Perfectionism is the enemy of progress, among other things. Kids who are perfectionists can prevent their own advancement in swimming. They often focus on the details and forget the big picture. They will often:
- Believe they can’t do one skill because they haven’t yet mastered a different skill
- Become discouraged if they don’t immediately master a skill
- Assume they are the only student unable to do something
- Feel very worried about doing something wrong in front of others
It is vital that the teacher creates a positive environment for all students, especially for kids struggling with perfectionism. This means:
- Supporting trying
- Accepting mistakes as part of learning
- Finding something to praise for everyone
- Providing encouragement
- Setting session goals
If the teacher knows your child is a perfectionist, they can explain at the beginning of the lesson what they’ll be learning that day. Instead of saying something big like ‘breaststroke’, the teacher can say, ‘Today, we’ll focus on turning feet out in breaststroke kick.’ By narrowing the scope, the child can feel a sense of accomplishment by doing that one thing.
If you’ve tried lots of options, and your child is still balking at the water’s edge, consider private swimming lessons. When the student has the full attention of the teacher, they often feel more secure. They will get the benefit of total focus on their needs without the sometimes-chaotic environment of a group lesson. Our teachers are waiting to assist!