7 ways to stop your child having a meltdown at swimming lessons

Tears are streaming down your child’s face as they throw themselves on the floor refusing to enter the pool for their swimming lesson. You veer from sympathy to exasperation to anger.

Helene Aitchison, owner of  Auckland’s Turtle Swim School, has seen this time and time before. Parents with the best intentions, bring their child for what was meant to be a fun and educational swimming lesson. But they just won’t get in the water.  

There are ways you and your swim instructor can make that transition into the water a little bit easier for them.

Here are Helene’s seven top tips to help you keep your sanity

1.  Take your time, don’t rush it. 

Make it fun and enjoyable so that your child wants to come back.  If your child doesn’t make it into the water on the first lesson, remember that’s okay.  A good instructor will take time to bond with your child, whether they are in the water with the rest of the group or standing at the side of the pool. Helene normally does this is by talking to your child, letting them play with toys on the side of the pool or encouraging them to just to get their feet wet. The aim here is to build the trust.  

2.  Bribery

So we don’t like to admit it, but we’ve all done it in some shape or form. The promise of a lollipop or that your child can watch their favourite show could be just the ticket to get them in to the water! Sometimes children are OK in the bath at home, but as soon as you get to swimming lessons they lose it.  Remember it is a massive area of water in a brand new environment and lots of children find it very daunting. 

3.  Come early to swimming lessons

Sometimes turning up early to swimming lessons and watching the other kids can be beneficial.  Get your child to bring their favourite toy along to the lessons and show it to the instructor. This may help get your child talking with the instructor and build a trusting relationship. 

4.  Visit your local swimming pool

If you are still struggling with a reluctant child you may find taking your child to the local public pools during the week to play and build confidence in the water will help.  

5.  Get in the pool with your child

Parents, at the end of the day, you may just have to get wet! Helene’s found that sometimes the only way a child is getting in the water is if mummy or daddy is getting in too. So for the first couple of weeks you may just have to pack your bathing suit and join in the fun. Just until your child adjusts to the swimming lessons. 

6.  Start in the bath at home

Helene says that your child shouldn’t stop learning once the lesson is over. There are lots of things you as parents can do to increase your child’s confidence around water. During bath time you can do things like dribble water over their heads, sing songs they sing at swimming lessons and make it fun and exciting, or encourage them to play in the bath with the toy they take to the swimming lessons.

7.  Find out why your child is upset?

Last but by far not least, finding out why your child is upset may be the key to why they are afraid to get in the water. Is it their first lesson?  Did they have a scare at home with water or at the local public pools?  Did the water go up their nose when they had their last swimming lesson?  Is it because your instructor is male and your child is female or vice versa.  As we all know, sometimes it’s impossible to understand why your child is distressed, and in these circumstances it’s always best to follow the child’s body language and take it slowly. Only when your child is showing more comfort and readiness then they can progress.  

Helene, pictured above, has 13 years’ experience in swim teaching and two children under five of her own, she has taught both her children how to swim from 6 months old. Lessons at Turtle Swim School range from two years to school age



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