Swimming Challenges With a Toddler + Advice Welcomed :)

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Ever since I can remember Max has been terrified (bold was necessary) of swimming.  As a parent I feel like swimming is one of those things that my kids need to learn whether they like it or not. It's not like baseball where if you put them in and they absolutely don't want to play you can take them out and try to find something they might like better.  Knowing how to swim can save your life so it's very important as a mother my boys know how to do it.  Last year I put Max in private swimming lessons at a local place by our house.  He hated it.  The poor kid would get crazy anxiety every time Thursday, which is swim lesson day rolled around.  I figured as time went on he would get more comfortable in the water and begin to get the hang of it.  He did start to learn to float (as you can see in the picture above) but soon after I took that it was almost like he went backwards in his learning and starting getting more and more afraid of the water.  Well, almost a year later (yes a whole year and a lot of money spent on swim lessons) he still is not swimming...not even close and he will be four in a couple months.  I figured by now he would be like freakin Michael Phelps...okay well not really but I did think he would at least be comfortable in the water.  In fact whenever either Ian or I get in the water with in anywhere he clings on for dear life and completely freaks out.   I do not like to just give up on things but I decided maybe the method they were going with at his swimming school was just not for him (obviously) so I pulled him out. 

With summer quickly approaching and pools every where we go I want to get Max swim safe!

I would love to hear from other moms how and when your kids starting swimming.  Any advice is appreciated! 

28 comments:

Rhiannon said...

Does he have a chance to be in the water a lot outside of lessons? I still can't swim, you have no idea how much I wish I could learn. I still panic in deep water because it's like I'm too terrified to "tread". I had lessons for two weeks once as a kid. The first week was awful, but the second week something clicked and I started doing really well. But as soon as they were over I wasn't able to try again for almost the whole summer and the anxiety set right back in. I feel if I had more chances to acclimate myself maybe I would be able to swim today. Good luck to you!

Liv said...

Is he more terrified of swimming lessons than actually being in the water? I'm not a momma yet, but I'm a nanny and all last summer I was in charge of taking the kiddos to swimming lessons. The 2 1/2 year old either sat on the edge of the pool and cried or held onto me for dear life during her swimming lessons. But we'd come to my house and swim, I'd stick a life jacket on her and she'd be in and out jumping in herself and swimming all over the place.

Andrea Everhart said...

My mom made me wear a life vest in pools so that I could just float around in the deep end with my brothers. Then I graduated to inflatable arm "swimmies." After that, I was pretty much an expert swimmer! I had anxiety about water, too, but the life vest made all the difference. I never took swim lessons -- I taught myself to doggie paddle with the life vest, then real strides with the arm swimmies. Good luck!

Karnal Red said...

I think Andrea has a good idea. Put him in a life vest. You might need to wait another year or two. He may not be ready. I didn't have swim lessons until I was about 5 1/2 yrs old. And maybe trying a different approach with a different teacher would help. My daughter was afraid of the water, so I let her go in when she was ready (in a life vest). And I also let her go as far as she was comfortable. I didn't want to push her to something that freaked her out. I read somewhere that putting a child into "freak out" mode may not be the best approach. Example: If you are afraid of spiders and someone makes you hold a spider, then you freak out. No fun! I really hope you do find an approach that works for Max... and you! good luck!

Sarah O. said...

My step-son will be 5 in July. Up until this time last year he was also pretty afraid of the water. He would get in, but cling to us and it would take him a very, very long time to try anything (like hold the side or stand on the steps). He had already had parent/child lessons as a smaller toddler and it was the same then as well. Then at the beginning of last summer he had private lessons in a private pool. The only other person in the class was his cousin/buddy. It was like a flip switched. He suddenly could swim really well on his own and loved it. We continued for the rest of the summer and he got better and better. Now we have a house with a pool and he is thrilled.
It's funny because when we watched his private lessons they weren't terribly structured. His teacher guided the boys but it was more like watching them play and jump in the water. We aren't sure if it was this approach combined with doing the lesson with a familiar friend that did it or if it was something else? The private pool was much smaller than a gym pool as well. Whatever it was it worked. Maybe you could invite a friend to his private lesson and try it in a smaller pool? Good luck. I totally understand you wanting him to learn to swim. :)

Laura said...

Been through that...best advice for Mom is to leave the pool area!

Kat said...

I am in the same way in the thought that learning to swim is a must- especially living in Southern California (and with a surfer husband who insists the kids learn too) My now 7 year old FINALLY got swimming around 5. She's no olympian, but she's comfortable in water and doing well (and still in lessons). I started her in swim lessons at 1, so it took a few years! My 5 year old is still terrified of water- I tried one of the pricier private lessons places and it was horrible. She screamed the entire time. I finally put her in group lessons at the local pool where their approach is much gentler, and she also has friends in her class. This is the first year she's has taken a class by herself and isn't freaking out. She's not swimming yet but she's WAY More comfortable in the water. I think patience, consistency, and finding the right fit is key. Now my 1 1/2 year old is a total daredevil so I feel (hope) he'll have a much easier time learning to swim- he's not scared of the water at all! Good luck!

Mindy said...

We have our kids in lessons every summer and The Girl hated it until last year. Now she asks nearly every day when lessons start again. It took her until age five, so maybe he just needs time.

Laurie said...

what about a little plastic/ blow up kiddy pool to put in your yard so he kind of gets the idea of being in water outside, but he doesn't have to float, maybe that would get him more used to the water and then he wont be so panicked when he has to float in a pool for class….. my kid loves the water. i took him to lessons when he was tiny and they were awesome-- took him to a lesson when he was almost 3 and he screamed the ENTIRE time because he didn't want to do what the class was doing and he wanted to swim away into the lap lane, or run into the kiddy pool and the hot tub. then he had a complete melt down when the class was over and he couldn't go back into the big pool. he went once and i couldn't handle taking him anymore. I'll take him again if the pool has a swim up bar. I feel your pain.

Melina Isbell said...

There are some pools around SD that have a gradual entry to the water, for example Dolphin Beach (it's a pool) in Eastlake. It's very kid friendly and there isn't that sudden drop off that might freak some kids out. I think he could gradually muster up the courage to go a little deeper every time, especially if toys are involved! And seeing all the other kids splashing, playing and having fun might help ease the fear :)

Leigh said...

My kids both learned to swim with "swimmies" don't even know if they are still available. They are inflatable arm bands that help them float. Most people and probably the directions say don't use them for that. But they really helped my kids learn to jump into the pool and swim around because they wouldn't go under water. Worth a try! Good Luck!

ali said...

I just want to say that 4 seems to me like a very young age to learn to swim.Were I come from (Belgium, Europe), most kids only start lessons when they are around 6. Before that, they just hang around and play with a life vest and then later, with arm swimmies. :)
Have a good day !

Jen said...

I hear you about the importance of swimming. As a Mom, I am petrified of my kids drowning. We put our girls in swim lessons every winter. My four year old is just now getting to the point where she can almost swim 3 feet with no assistance (and she hates it:). I think swimming on your own at 4 would be really advanced.

I really recommend the back pack style float system.
http://www.amazon.com/Water-Gear-Float-4-Color-Split/dp/B0002HRAZ4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399659186&sr=8-1&keywords=backpack+float

It keeps their arms free but enables them to feel confident that they won't drown. It might help him feel more confident in the water. As they get stronger and better, you can remove the floats one at a time.

We're on the east coast, but the YMCA has really great swim classes. The first one, you take with your child which might also help ease fears.

Good luck and stick with it. It really is important.

curlygirlpress said...

We just started our 21-month-old in "parent and tot" classes, where we're in the pool too and leading the exercises. It's less about swimming and more about familiarity with water. So far he's doing great, but he loves to play in the tub so I had high hopes.

We're going on vacation soon and I'm considering one of those arm-and-chest floaty things kids wear, but I also know he won't be in the water without us at any time.

Good luck, Lindsay. I too think swimming (keeping oneself afloat) is an invaluable skill; I hope you find a method that works for your little guy.

Lieke said...

In the Netherlands they advice you not to start swimming lessons before age of five. People say toddlers don't have the skills to learn how to swim before that age. Since we live in an old harbour, I totally wanted my kids to learn that water can be nice when you're playing in it with your parents, but is dangerous when they are alone. We just go to the pool every week. We let them play in the water and that's it. My five year old started swimming last winter and is totally kicking ass now, but I know for sure she wouldn't have as much fun as I let her take lessons before her fifth.

deanna said...

My now 16 year old lifeguard was the same way - there's hope!

Anonymous said...

I have taught and coached swimming for more than ten years, and I'm the daughter of a former swimming instructor with many years of experience. My mom and I have both found that there is little to no carry over from the summer children are three until the summer they are four unless they consistently are in the pool throughout the rest of the year. Most children are not ready to swim until they are four to six and no longer have a "baby body." In the meantime, encouraged blowing bubbles and going underwater in the bathtub. Playing together in shallow pools where kids are encouraged to pick up toys from the bottom of the pool can help as well. Individual lessons are often intimidating. Small group lessons can be great since kids see other kids their age doing the skills and think, "If he can do it, I can too!" Good luck! :)

Anonymous said...

I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I work with children often on specific anxieties. With kids, it is important to find out what automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) they are having when they are putting on a bathing suit, getting in the car, seeing the pool, stepping into the pool, etc. So try talking to Max about his ANTs and give him some positive self-talk to replace the negatives. Kids are so resilient and quick learners, so I have no doubt that Max will be swimming soon!

Anonymous said...

Hi there...we got our son a life vest - it is a coast guard approved life saving device - that goes around his arms like floaties and around his chest and buckles in back. This was last summer when he was 2 and we just strapped him into it and let him wear it around the yard at first. Then when he realized he could float around the pool in it he was super into that and had so much fun with it. You have to get the kiddo to have some fun with water in some way so he won't be afraid of it. I had a kids play pool we played in last summer and also a large steel bucket he could just sit in. Those things, plus just not expecting too much of him or pushing him too hard, got him totally into the water and by the end of the summer he was jumping off the edge of the pool and swimming back to the edge. He would even take a few breaths. I live in Arizona and the need to be safe around pools is imperative because pools are everywhere here. Somehow make water fun and don't push him too hard to do things he isn't comfortable with, is my best advice. Good luck!

Bridget from Refined Vintage said...

I have grown daughters, who both liked the water at a young age. We would take them in the water as babies while holding them and also using small floating rings they would be inside of and they just had fun. We did use the arm floaties when the were preschool age so they could have the freedom to explore the water without fear. We live in an area with lakes all around us so It was important that both my daughters took swimming lessons while in grade school to develop the necessary skills to be safe. The best thing about this was it was offered on one of the lakes near us during the summer and they both looked forward to going to lessons.
I think getting them used to the water as a fun experience with you the parent at an early age is key to allaying fears.
I was a nanny last summer and I took a 15 month old toddler into the pool and it was the same experience for her, she loved the water, and was happy and comfortable. I held her, she splashed and kicked, holding her arms she also let her legs float, she liked the feeling of floating while being safely held. She also used a floaty,that you sit in with your legs hanging down and loved that too. Of course I was holding on to it as well. Good Luck. Have fun with them in the water.

Allison said...

As a swim teacher and a mama it can be so many things that are making him scared and I think the best thing you can do is find the right teacher. You need someone who will work with you and take it slow and try a million things out. It might help if you watch from where he can't see you because sometimes the distraction of mommy makes it hard for teachers to hold their attention. A lot of kids just need time and someone to play with them in the water and slowly get them out of their shell. Ask the swim teacher if you can bring a favorite water toy and maybe let him pick one out. It might seem like its moving slow, but if he isn't screaming crying in the water you're doing pretty good! I don't know how often you were going, but sometimes more frequently, like twice a week, can help too. Some kids also do better in group lessons. Peer pressure is powerful! Keep trying and be patient because someday he'll never want to leave the pool! Also, its so important that you stay positive and happy about swim lessons because I see so many kids who's parents are stressed because their kids are not on their best behavior because they hate swim lessons and the stressed out parents make the kids stressed too!

Diane Gonzales said...

Hi Lindsay. I so understand what you are talking about. Both of our daughters were like that. I went with them for swimming lessons but like your son, it just created a lot of anxiety. Instead, we would have little mini-vacations at a nearby city for a little getaway. The hotels we stayed in had great pools so they wanted to be there and actually looked forward to it. Little by little they stopped hanging around our necks for dear life. I think they just need to become a little more familiar with being around a pool. Soon they became very good swimmers.

Now, we have a three year old grandson who is just afraid of the pool as his mom was. She is showing him you tube videos of kids his age swimming and he's getting excited about going swimming. You know how they are at this age...they are big imitators. Best of luck and don't worry, he will learn. Just give him time.

The Juarez Family said...

I don't know if anywhere in your area offers it, but I work at a gymnastics/swim place here in AZ (where we also feel that swimming is a life skill and so necessary!) and we offer 2 week intensive swims every summer. It is classes every day Monday-Thursday for 2 weeks at the same time and with the same instructor each day. It has helped a lot of kids get over the hump of their fear of water. After those lessons, we really encourage once-a-week lessons year round until they are old enough to not forget how to swim every winter. But I also agree with Allison above...make sure you find the right fit as far as a teacher goes! It will make or break it for him! Good luck!

Suzanne Fagan Barrera said...

Infant Swim Resource (ISR) is a very guided, secure way for any child 6months or older to learn how to float

Chelsea Ward said...

Hi! I don't have any kiddos of my own but I have taught swim lessons for the past 10 years. I've found that most kiddos tend to do better in a group setting, especially after they've had some private lessons! It kind of breaks the ice and the group setting encourages them to try it a little more than they would normally, especially if they are friends with some of the other swimmers. An instance where peer pressure can be very useful. Albeit every kid is different, some just take a little longer to get comfortable with such a strange and new environment. I've had some older kids hate and and be terrified and then one summer it just clicks! Some kids just need to have enough fun distractions to get them used to the water and shed all fears of the pool. I definitely do not recommend using arm floaties, they give a false sense of confidence and are very hard to learn real swimming skills while wearing them.

TracyKM said...

My son was like that at that age, which sucked cause we lived a block from a brand new rec centre. I didn't put him in lessons, but just tried to show that playing in water was part of life...creeks, ponds, bathtub, the beach, outdoor pools (like wading pools). He has Sensory Processing Dysfunction and getting splashed was a HUGE issue (he's tactile defensive). Gradually, as he got older and realized he had more control over what he does with his own self, he got more into the idea of deeper water and swimming. I don't think we started swimming lessons until he was 5. I think "water awareness" is more important in the younger years. He finally did learn to enjoy it, working his way through lessons and lots of positive water experiences (where he could be in control of himself). Now, at 13, he really does love the water, especially when we've gone to beaches with big waves that he can crash and roll into. Scares me, cause he's so skinny and not a "strong" person! I'm glad we never forced him--he would SCREAM bloody murder at the splash pad or beach (we only went to free places for a long time, I wasn't going to pay to have him refuse!). One kid was taking lessons with him when he was 5, and hated it, refused to do anything, cried, etc. and his mom was really, really pushy. We ended up living down the street from that kid later and he was still so anti-water, he wouldn't even go in our hot tub. I'm all for listening to a child, and respecting their fears, and we were also very insistent that our kids know how to swim. But by backing off for three years, we more than made up for it :)

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