15 answers

5 Year Old Refusing Swimming Lessons

My daughter just started a new swimming lesson session and is freaking out. She has gong to swimming lessons before and has been excited about them and joined in the class. But, the last session, one of the swim teachers 'let her go' when she was in the deep water. (these are her words--I watched the entire time and she was never in danger) So, now she doesn't want to go because her swim teacher is a male (he is a new teacher and she hasn't had him before) She has had male teachers before and has not had any problems with them but that is the only thing she can tell me that

She is fine before we go but once we get there she starts screaming and crying about how scared she is. She wouldn't get in the water for 20 minutes ( of a 45-minute class) I tried calmly reasoning with her and even bribing her but nothing works. Once she gets in, she won't participate in the class and just sits on the step. Once the class is finishing up, she starts bopping around in the water and I have a hard time getting her out of there. I think the swim teacher doesn't know what to do with her without disrupting the class for the other kids.

I know her fears are real to her but I feel that learning to swim is very important. She has enjoyed the other classes she is in but has always insisted she be held when she can't touch.

Does anyone have any ideas of how I can minimize the drama and encourage her to participate in the swim class? I think once she starts to participate she will be fine, but my heart is breaking when I see her not participating. She has really turned a corner and started enjoying the water this summer and I'd hate to see her develop a more intense fear of water when I was seeing her start to have fun.

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What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Well, we went back to swimming lessons today (the third lesson) I figured this was our last chance and if it didn't work out, we would be done. We had talked about how important it was and how everything would be OK. I also promised a treat if she tried her best. Well, she was a little timid as she got in and said she was nervous but after about 5 minutes had probably put her whole head under water a few times and had a big smile on her face and kept giving me the thumbs up sign. The people around us couldn't believe it was the same little girl as last week. Afterwards, she said that was the most fun she had ever had in the water and couldn't wait to go again later this week. So, in this case, I think it just took some encouraging but it seems like she is on the right track.

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Another child we know who was 4 last year was freaking out at swimming lessons last summer (happened to be in the same class with my son). After 3 sessions they got a refund and let it drop. Saw her at the pool recently - swimming like a fish now, a year later. I would drop the class and try again later. Or see if they can put her in another class with another instructor (they tried that with the child I mentioned last summer, but that didn't help.)

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Just a quick note from a parent who has been frustrated by other kids having the fit at swim class.

Several times over the years we have encounted kids who refuse to get in the water for swim class, and the teacher spends 15 minutes trying to convince the child to join the class. The other kids sit there waiting, and we hardly get a decent class out of it.

If your child is not comfortable with it, please don't sign them up for group lessons. If you can afford private lessons, great, otherwise do the basics yourself. You know what they are teaching the beginners.

To convince her, how about restricting her recreational swimming? "You don't know how to swim yet" so she doesn't get to go in the water. If she's not comfortable in the water, she shouldn't be in it. No young kids should be playing in water where they can't touch the bottom, but at this age she should be swimming around under shallower water.

3 moms found this helpful

Hi D.,

My 11 y.o. daughter didn't learn to swim until she was 8 after group lessons at five places since the age of four! I tried group, semi-private, and even private! What finally did it was a snorkling trip. After putting her face in the water with a snorkle mask, she was ready to hold her breath and add that to her dog paddling! Go figure.

Now my 4 y.o. son has had trouble feeling comfortable in group lessons since age 3 so we started with private ones. I think the only difference between him and the other kids is that, perhaps, I hadn't taken him to enough recreational swim time. Both of my kids are also pretty sensitive.

Our society is so focused on early mastery these days, without respect for kids and their needs. Whether it is readiness or a bad water experience, a young kid needs to feel secure in the water and lots of pools don't have a really shallow area for them. So they need to learn to play and love the water with someone they trust: you (or a trusted family member or friend)!

There are so many things we can do as parents that we don't try. I watch the swim teachers and the early stuff is not rocket science. You can do so much yourself and when your child is ready, then pass them on to the pro.

Your child and her fears are normal! Just build new and positive experiences this summer. Good luck.


1 mom found this helpful

If she is afraid, please don't push it. To a child, that must be horrifying. Respect and honor her feelings right now, and she will eventually change her mind. To push her to swim now when she is so intensely afraid and this is so new in her mind is not productive at all.

I agree that she should not participate in the group class anymore, either. She is going to hold up the progress of the others and cause frustration. I think private lessons, if possible, are an option. But not until her fears subside a bit. This is something that could affect her for life if she is pushed through it. But if she is given control over when she gets in the water next, she will probably not even remember the incident in a year.

What Barbara says above is SO true. What is the rush?

1 mom found this helpful

Another child we know who was 4 last year was freaking out at swimming lessons last summer (happened to be in the same class with my son). After 3 sessions they got a refund and let it drop. Saw her at the pool recently - swimming like a fish now, a year later. I would drop the class and try again later. Or see if they can put her in another class with another instructor (they tried that with the child I mentioned last summer, but that didn't help.)

1 mom found this helpful

My youngest did something similar. I finally took her out of the class and told her that she didn't have to go. However, she couldn't get her feet wet beyond her toes and she had to wear her swim vest and having an adult hold her if she went into the water. The next summer, we went to Boston. While there, she went to the beach with her uncle and some adult cousins as well as some other kids who knew how to swim. I instructed everyone on the rules and they enforced them. I had to go to the airport, on my return, she ran up and told me that she really, really wanted to take swim classes. Not being able to go into the water without having some one holding her really motivated her! She's now been taking swim classes for two summers and loves it!

She also pulled similar stunts in dance and gymnastics. I did the same thing. For both things, she eventually decided that she did want to do them and has been reenrolled very successfully. The key was her wanting to do it!

1 mom found this helpful

Maybe you could ask the swim teacher to talk to her independantly and say something like, I know you got scared when I was trying to let you swim by yourself and you probably weren't ready for that so, we will take it a little slower. You can go at you own pace and join in when you feel like you are brave enough. Just ask him to keep it positive and not pressured. If you don't feel comfortable asking the swim teacher than you could use the same words and tell the swim teacher that she needs a little more encouragement and to go a little slower with her. It's about having a fun experience and if she doesn't come around than I would drop the class and work with her independantly during open swim times. Good luck


Would private (one on one) swim lessons be an option? When I was little, I had a scary swim lesson experience and didn't want to go back. My parents took me to a private class one summer and that helped a lot.

Others have mentioend private lessons and that may be the way to go if you can. When I was about 8, my sister taught me how to swim.. I had just gotten the hang of actually swimming, head side to side, etc. A "friend" pushed into the water before I was even ready to get in. I thought I was going to drown. Under water you get very disoriented. No signs of direction or anything. I can imagine how your daughter felt. If this is possible, why don't you go into the water yourself? If you can get her comfortable enough to be in the water with you, she may be more open to lessons again.

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