Swimming is one of the most important skills you can learn as a child. Hands down. No question. As far as I am concerned it is right up there with learning your ABC’s and 123’s. If kids don’t have the exposure and experience they need, water can be extremely dangerous.
As a swim instructor with ten plus years of experience, I have worked with hundreds of kids learning how to swim. I have taught kids of all age ranges and skill levels, and while each one was an individual with their own needs and ways of learning, there are always a few general tips or pointers I try to offer to first time parents on how to make things run a little more smoothly.
Tip Number 1:
Expect Resistance (especially from kids under 3 or 4)
A first swim lesson for a young kid is usually a tough one. Not only does your child most likely not know how to swim, but you’re asking them to get in the water with someone they’ve never met, in a place they have probably never been, with a bunch of kids they don’t know. Sometimes it takes a little while for kids to adjust. Most of the time this difficulty extends further into the classes.
Tip Number 2:
Deal with the Resistance
The best way to deal with a child who is giving you a hard time about getting in the water is to be consistent. Baby steps are okay, in fact, they are good. They don’t want to get in the water with the instructor? That’s fine, sit on the side and watch. Put your toes in the water. Kick your feet on the side. Little things like this will help your child get acclimated to this new environment.
Tip Number 3:
The “Tough Love” Method
Sometimes kids can be stubborn, and I mean really stubborn. Sometimes getting in the water is just something they will not do willingly. But, you don’t learn to ride a bike from watching your friends ride by you. You don’t learn to write your name by staring at letters until you can draw them. And you don’t learn to swim by sitting on the side and watching. As we know, swimming is an essential skill, so overcoming their resistance is necessary.
When I’m dealing with a really tough cookie, I’ll often tell the parent to pick them up and hand them over to me in the water. Yes, there’s crying. Sometimes yelling, kicking, screaming, etc., but your child will eventually understand that this is not optional. A big part of not wanting to get in the pool with a swim instructor has to do with you being there for them to fall back onto. I’ve had tons of success with parents giving me their kids and stepping off the deck for just a minute while I work with the kid to get them more comfortable. Many of the kids that I currently swim with today started off in this boat. In fact, one of my top swimmers on the swim team here at Dedham Health started off leaving scratch marks on my shoulders in our first class together (he was 3 at the time).
Ultimately, nobody knows your child better than you do. You will always know what needs to happen for your child to have the best experience they can. Hopefully, this has been a little insight into how to get your child acclimated with being in the water. Always remember that even though swimming is an immensely important skill to learn, each child has his or her own way of doing it.
For more information on the swim program at Dedham Health, visit our website!
-Mike Moses, Hydra Swim Coach at Dedham Health