39 answers

Swimming Lesson Nightmare

My son turned 3 in Feb. He has only been in a pool a few times so I thought now would be the time to start lesson. He has been to two classes and it has been a nightmare. He sits on the edge of the pool and cried. Really cries. He has gone in the pool 3x w/the teacher but he is terrified. I don't expect him to really learn how to swim, I wanted him to get exposed to the water and get used to it. It is really hard for me to watch him sit on the edge of the pool and cry. On one hand I'm afraid he will be more afraid of the water if I "made" him do it, but I also don't want him to learn that if he cries I will come save him and he doesn't have to do anything. Of course some of it is too these classes aren't cheap and I'm sure I'm out of the money, he has 6 more classes to go. He goes 1x a week. Has anyone else had this experience? My husband wants me to pull him out, he thinks we are torturing him. I just don't know what to do.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you everyone for your suggestions. He has been a pool a few other times but always w/either me or one of my friends and he has always had floaties on his arms. My husband said that maybe the pool is scary since he is sitting on the edge and looking down and while he isn't in deep water it looks deep to him. I can't go in the pool with him, he goes to the local YMCA and since he is 3 parents aren't aloud in the pool with him. I think we are going to take him out and visit our local wading pools and get him used to them. My husband is going to take him to open swim this week and see how he does, than we will make the decision about going again on Sat. I'm glad to know that other children are having the same problem. The teacher is nice but he is a teenage boy and seems to be teaching him like he know how to swim. At the end of the class they let the kids on the noodles and free swim, that isn't going to happen even if my son wasn't scared. He can't swim. Thanks again.

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I always signed my kids up for the every-day lessons for 2 week sessions. My #2 daughter was the one who was terrified. They only let the parents stay in and watch for the first session. (She was 5, though, not 3). She cried and would not go in the water...was really upset. But I made her keep going and by the end of the 2 weeks, she was jumping off the board GIGGLING.... while the teacher waited in the water. I was amazed...

I think it is VERY important for all kids to learn how to swim and not be afraid of the water. I think it's a good experience for him... but I wonder if the once a week is not frequently enough for him to remember, "oh yes- there's fun about this..."

I am not the athletic type at all...I can swim, but I usually just dog paddle around... but all of my kids went on to be lifeguards all through high school which was a terrific summer job for them, and taught them skills which will last throughout their lives.. Two of them were on swim team in high school.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi L.! I had the same problem with my son when he was three so I know exactly how you feel. What I did was I bought one of those cheap kiddie pools and filled it with water, then I got in the pool to show my son that it was just water and that everything was going to be ok. I showed him that I would never make him do something that I wouldnt do my self. After he got used to watching me I said " Do you want to come play in the pool with mommy"? and he shook his head. So I said "But if you dont come play with me it will make me cry. You dont want to make mommy cry do you"? and then he said "no" and then he got into the pool and enjoy himself! So why dont you try what I did and tell me how it works out!

it doesn't sound like he's ready.

I would try to introduce him to water on a smaller basis. Pools look like oceans to little ones. Try getting him used to the kiddie pools with just a foot or two of water in them first. Perhaps take him to the gym or Y and take him into the jacuzzi. It's a much smaller amount of water to get used to. Let him put his feet in and get used to it at his own pace.

I know he's only 3, but perhaps try to talk to him about what he's scared of. Is he scared he will sink? Is he scared that he'll be splashed in the face? Is he scared of the pool area? It's a new environment, so maybe the entire room and smells scare him. Maybe the noise and other people make it hard for him to find a safe place to experience being in the water. Perhaps try to introduce him to the water when no one else is around or when a couple members of the family are around.

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I always signed my kids up for the every-day lessons for 2 week sessions. My #2 daughter was the one who was terrified. They only let the parents stay in and watch for the first session. (She was 5, though, not 3). She cried and would not go in the water...was really upset. But I made her keep going and by the end of the 2 weeks, she was jumping off the board GIGGLING.... while the teacher waited in the water. I was amazed...

I think it is VERY important for all kids to learn how to swim and not be afraid of the water. I think it's a good experience for him... but I wonder if the once a week is not frequently enough for him to remember, "oh yes- there's fun about this..."

I am not the athletic type at all...I can swim, but I usually just dog paddle around... but all of my kids went on to be lifeguards all through high school which was a terrific summer job for them, and taught them skills which will last throughout their lives.. Two of them were on swim team in high school.

1 mom found this helpful

If I were you, for now I would take him to a pool where it's fun to him. A lot of his fear is probably that you aren't in there with him and he trusts you, but doesn't know this instructor. Check into your local YMCA, they offer classes for kids where the mommy goes in the water with them and really does the safety part and helps them learn all the stuff. You definitely don't want him to develop a fear of water though. I started my kids in swim lessons when they were 4 and 5. Our neighbor has a pool so they were already in love with swimming when they took it.

Can you find parent/child swim classes where you can go in the pool with him? He may be as scared of being without you as he is of the water. 3 is still pretty young. Good luck! I know trying new things with a toddler can be a challenge.

My son did the same. He HATED to swim...swim lessons were a fight. Last summer (when he was 5) he learned to swim on his own, at his own pace and he LOVES it now. He can't wait til summer. He doesn't like swim lessons still though. He wants to learn at his own pace in his own time. I ask around and do research to learn how to teach him to swim on my own so we can make it more of a game rather than a scheduled event. It works much better for us.
PS we tried the parent child classes...that was equally as much torture!

I would look into a parent child class to begin with. this way he sees you in a class setting participating. then you can have the instructor try taking him for bits at a time so he gets used to someone new helping him in hte water. I have been a swim instructor for 13years and it isn't uncommon for beginners to do this. It is new to him. if you have any other questions feel free to contact me.

As a former swimming instructor i really think you should leave him in, even if all he does through the whole session is sit on the edge of the pool and cry he is still getting exposure to the water. If you yank him out now he is not going to get that exposure and is much more likely to carry his fear of water further into childhood. Because of my skills with the really scared kids i was the one who frequently got the 6 and 7 year olds who were still just as scared of the water as they were as toddlers. They were much harder to get through to than their younger counterparts. It sounds like the instructor is trying to engage your son (which is great) but also should not be forcing him to do things he does not want to do. eventually he will stop crying for long enough to realize that they are having a lot of fun in the pool and he will want to join in, it may not even be this session of swimming lessons but it will happen i promise.

Take him out.
Unless you and/or your husband are taking him to the pool for fun and/or to practice what he has "learned" at his lesson, you are wasting your money.
For best results you should take him to the pool at least 2 times between lessons.
Also, you are expecting a lot of a 3 year old especially if he did not know the teacher and was unfamiliar with the pool.

This may sound silly to you, but does your son like to play in the bath tub? My children loved to take a bath. I would let them play in the tub water for a minimum of 15 minutes before we got washed, etc., every day. It was sort of game time.
Do you have a wading pool for him? Does he enjoy splashing around in it?
If he really doesn't enjoy either of the above then he isn't ready for swimming lessons. Most areas with pools have a toddler pool to play in. You may need to take him to the "pool" at least 2 or 3 times a week this summer and play in the wading or kiddie pool with him to get him used to the idea that pools are fun before you worry about getting him swimming lessons.
All of my children were "water" babies and learned to swim before they took lessons and it all started with playing in the bath tub.

My advice to you would be to take your son out of the swimming lessons and wait until summer when you and your husband can take him in the water at his own pace. You should buy one of those small plastic pools and put a little water in it and just hang outside while your son just plays in the water. Another thing I found that REALLY made a huge difference for my son when he was about that age was I took him to swim lessons at a therapeutic pool which was as warm as bath water. Amazingly, the temperature of the water made ALL the difference. He didn't want to get out of the water at that pool. Hope this helps.

At his age fear has become a "learned " emotion; however, the swimmimg lessons could be very comforting, depending upon how it is exposed to your son. It may be worth a try to take him into the pool with you/and or husband on a non lesson day to get him acclimated to the water, this is very important, not to mention being with the people he trust (the secret to learning to swim). It would also be a great fun family day for you to enjoy. Start with him riding piggy back in the water before being immersered partially into the water. This may take several trips to the pool but the outcome will be worth your time and relive some of the stress that is building. If this does not work now -- wait and try at a later date.

my son is just over 2yrs old and i took him to swimming classes; like yourself to get him use to the water. The classes i signed him up for I had to be in the water with him. as a mom i love swimming and the water and grew up with a pool; but my son yelled & screamed & cried with me holding him for the first 4 lessons (2weeks of classes); then he got use to it a bit; he was not fightning me to get in he went with me but just yelled. I did not make him let go...it took about 2weeks(4lessons) and he finally relaxed a bit and would let me hold him only lightly & he kicked and splashed and did much better. maybe you could get in the water with him for the swim class?

Seems like fear is from change and maybe a person he is not familiar with. You may want to take him to the pool and go into the pool with him several times. Places have private lessons where the parent does teaching exercises with them. This crying may stop. Your son is experiencing change and does not like it.

You will provide the constant. See what the teacher does and talk with him through those same processes. Your son will eventually stop crying once he figures it out this water familiarization class is routine. It may be better for you to take a walk and come back and check on him instead of focusing on his every reaction.

Does the pool have steps leading into it? Can he sit on those instead of the side? Have the teacher ask him every once in awhile if he wants to join, and if not, let him sit on the steps. Take him to the lessons anyway and let him decide what he wants. You said that you're probably out the money anyway, so let him have some kind of control.

We have the opposite problem with our 5 year old, who we tried to sign up for classes but then had the sickness trimester at our house (Feb through April).

She isn't scared of the water at all. She went and jumped into my sister's pool onto one of those noodles. At least she was smart enough to know she was supposed to have that with her, but we all still freaked out. The big reason she wasn't afraid of the water was because both DH and I had taken her in the water often enough for her not to be terrified of it.

One of the others suggested signing up for a class with parents and toddlers - that sounds like the way to go to me too.

Good luck!

My son was almost 4 when I put him in lessons. He did the same thing, screamed and cried for 2 days and kept getting out and running to me. I stood in the hall so he wouldn't see me on the second day and the teacher even held him and walked him around the pool talking to him; he still ran out into the hall when she put him down. I said "that's enough" and went home. The next year, I tried again. He was fine. He did everything they asked him to do and was not afraid at all. I agree with your husband. Take him to pools this summer, get a little splash pool for home. Let him have fun in the water. He will mature and learn to swim later on.

honestly, it's really good that your kid is afraid of water. it is dangerous, you know.

i think he may be crying in part because he's afraid of the teacher/class situation... why don't you pull him out, and just go to a kiddie pool for some one on one fun with mommy? he'll get more attention from you than he would from a swim teacher, and at this point you just want him to have fun splashing and getting used to it. and he trusts you- you're his mother.

can't you ask the teacher to join the class with him until he stops being terrified? everyone would be happier... and he would feel safer. if the teacher is not willing to let you come with him to help him feel calm, i say pull him out.

you can definitely be practicing swimming in the bathtub. practice blowing bubbles, humming in the water, getting his face wet, getting his eyebrows wet..... teaching him to be more used to the water.
it may be a water depth thing, in which case he'll need to ease into that.
is he using floating arm bands? that can really help younger kids feel secure in the water. we would use the arm bands and hold the child's hands and encourage them to kick.
but really some days its a success to just hold them , still crying, while walking back and forth in the shallow end of the water.

there is a summer swim program called "swim ministry". i learned to swim there when I was 3. They have 3 (one week) courses in the summer. 1 hr. every morning. (9, 10 or 11am). and it only costs $20 for the week.

its worth checking out.

good luck.

I would suggest you go get him some floaties for his arms and a round one for his waist. Take him to the pool when they have open swim and put the floaties on him and you get in the water with him. He will be frightened at first, but then when he learns he cant go under and he can splash and have fun, he will be more relaxed. I did this at a country club pool when my girls were little. They learned to trust the water and as they got older, they removed the floaties themselves and learned to swim without them. I never took them to any lessons. But when they go to lessons and mom or dad cant be there in the water with them, they are scared to death. So I would work with him several days a week if possible outside of lessons and try and get him to trust the water. Once he sees it wont hurt him, he will be much less scared.

I agree that you should pull him. I just don't think he's ready to try the formalized lessons. How about trying to just get him more comfortable with the pool and wanting to splash around in it with just you and/or your husband? Once he's comfortable in the pool, really comfortable, he might be more open to starting a class about it. Starting a new class is scary to any kid and adding a LARGE tub of water can't make it easier.

Like you said at this age he's not going to really learn to swim, take him out of swim lessons. Make the pool fun, take him to the store and let him pick out a few pool toys, and ease him into the water with you. Make it more about play and fun. Also get a life jacket or some other flotation device so he feels secure in the water. Or take him to a pool that is shallow enough he can stand. Vandalia rec is a great pool for that, and you can pay per visit. Good luck and have fun!

Before putting you little one in swimming lessons you really should make sure you spend time taking him to the pool on a regular basis a couple times a week for a month or two. That way he isn't having to deal with learning to love the water, but doing it with a total stranger. Since he is already in class, I would start taking him once or twice a week, where just you and he can get in the water together. Watch what the teacher is doing in class with the other little ones and try to work on that with your little guy when you take him.

is it a big pool that his classes are in? if so it could be the size of the pool with all that water & the noise from the other students. my brother took his kids to swimminglessons, but he brought along alittle kiddy pool & set it near the bigger pool to get them used to it & when they finally wanted to test the bigger waters on their own so to speak, there was alittle hesitation, but not out-right fear. also another thought, some kids are just plain scared of water like that & no amount of classes, bribes, or coaxing are going to rid them of that. good luck & God be with you.

Last summer my son took Infant Swimming Resource. It is a swimming program for infants to six years old. It's not that our son was afraid, he just would not do what the instructor needed him to do, even though he loved the water. Do a google search to see if they have a certified ISR instructor in your area. I live in Powell, Ohio and they have are having lessons again this year at one of the country clubs. Their website will do a better job explaining it than I would. If you have any questions of concerns, feel free to call me at home: ###-###-####. Best of luck, M.

At this time, I would not push the lessons, but look for opportunties when he had be with pals at the pool and the focus is the fun and playing in the water secondary. My thoughts. A.

If you stop now he may forget about his initial experience in the water. If you continue this it may become something he doesn't forget. Ask if you can have a credit for future lessons with the instructors. Start small at home during the summer with a wading pool and then maybe go up to the pool with kids he is comfortable with and let him sit next to the edge to see the other kids. I think your child is telling you a little bit about himself and he may not be a child that just jumps in and tries things.

it doesn't sound like he's ready.

I would try to introduce him to water on a smaller basis. Pools look like oceans to little ones. Try getting him used to the kiddie pools with just a foot or two of water in them first. Perhaps take him to the gym or Y and take him into the jacuzzi. It's a much smaller amount of water to get used to. Let him put his feet in and get used to it at his own pace.

I know he's only 3, but perhaps try to talk to him about what he's scared of. Is he scared he will sink? Is he scared that he'll be splashed in the face? Is he scared of the pool area? It's a new environment, so maybe the entire room and smells scare him. Maybe the noise and other people make it hard for him to find a safe place to experience being in the water. Perhaps try to introduce him to the water when no one else is around or when a couple members of the family are around.

All kids should be water safe and know how to swim but I think perhaps your son is too young and immature to tackle it yet.Most swim teachers do not allow the parents to sit and watch as it causes tension in the area. I taught my youngest sister who was 3 how to swim and we had a ball, I was in my mid 20's then.But she loved playing in water.The first time her head went under she freaked a bit but I was in the water with her and pulled her up right away. After she realised Sissy wouldn't let anything bad happen to her she took off swimming on her own. Now in her late 20's she is teaching her two daughters 4 and 2 how to swim, the girls love it.

Hi L.,
I can relate!!! We put our son (he was 4.5 at the time) into swim lessons and he didn't enjoy it like we thought he would. He would want to sit on the edge and not particpate with the other children. Luckily it was a class where a parent got into the water with him so that helped a little - otherwise I don't think he would have gotten into the water at all! With your son being 3, I would see about being able to get in the water with him or continue going but not forcing him to participate. Our son is finishing kindergarten and he's indicated he's ready to start the lessons again. Our daughter is 16mo and she is in lessons that help them get used to the water (Dad or I get in the water with her)- she was scared at first but the second class went better.
GOOD LUCK!

L.,
We live in the Kent State area and signed our three year olds up for "diaper dolphins". This is a class where we got in the pool with our girls, and it was more for helping them feel comfortable in the water, instead of teaching them how to swim. It sounds like your son would benefit from this type of class and sounds like he would be more comfortable with you in there with him. I beleive the new class started at the beginning of May, but you may be able to find other classes at a different college or ymca or something of that sort.

3 is too young and if he hates it and you force him he will develop a true fear. Take him out and try again when he is older and try to make water time fun. Take a mom and me class if necessary, that way you are in the water with him.

I am a preschool teacher for the YMCA. We take the children to the pool for lessons every week. I have been exposed to a few children who are scared of the water. One child held on for dear life every time the teacher (or I) took him across for his turn. Then after a few lessons he got better. He still clings however not as hard and sometimes not at all. However every time he misses at least a week he regresses back to hanging on and screaming more. Another child said the pool was too large so we did not force things on him as much. It takes 3 year olds a while to get used to being in the pool sometimes. Some advice I can recommend is ask if you can do a one on one with him during the lesson. You do as much as you (or dad) can do with him of the lesson. Maybe someone he trusts would be better for him. Also this will allow you to maybe take it at a slower pace. If this is not an option, see if you can take him to a public pool or some place between lessons and play around in the water with him along with slowly doing the things he is learning in his lessons. If your playing with him, he might not be as intimidated. You can also try to do as much as you can in the bath tub also. Just a few suggestions from someone with a little experience. Hope it helps.

I had thought that there was a class that you could take at the Y that allows parents in the water as well. Disappointing if they refuse to allow you in the pool, which would allow your child to be more comfortable and confident and actually learn something.

Another possibility is the water temperature. My daughter is 9 and would cry NOT because she is afraid, but cry because the water is so cold and she does NOT like to be cold and uncomfortable. I wish they held the swimming lessons in the smaller, heated pool, but alas, it is the larger, cold pool.

I told my daughter that she MUST participate, and the faster she gets into the water is the faster she will adjust. It was tough for her, but each week she got better.

I do think that you need to keep working with him in water situations. This is not an optional thing, you do not want your child lose out on all the fun that he can have playing in the water, or lose out on the safety if he were to ever all in.

Best of luck to you.

Hi L.! I had the same problem with my son when he was three so I know exactly how you feel. What I did was I bought one of those cheap kiddie pools and filled it with water, then I got in the pool to show my son that it was just water and that everything was going to be ok. I showed him that I would never make him do something that I wouldnt do my self. After he got used to watching me I said " Do you want to come play in the pool with mommy"? and he shook his head. So I said "But if you dont come play with me it will make me cry. You dont want to make mommy cry do you"? and then he said "no" and then he got into the pool and enjoy himself! So why dont you try what I did and tell me how it works out!

We recently went on vacation with our then 18 MO and she was originally terrified of the pool too. It took her a week to be comfortable enough to stop death gripping us. By the end of the two week vacation and going in at least once, if not twice a day, she was pretty comfortable going in the pool. Just remember it's a totally new experience for him and he just needs to get comfortable with it in his own way. I wouldn't give up just after a few lessons. It may be benificial to to find time to go to the pool with him, outside of class, and try to get him used to it. Just reassure him that you are there and let him cling for a bit if he needs to. You're his only "security blanket" when he's in the pool.

My daughter is 3, and she also has fears of the water. She does better when I just let her play on the side for awhile, but if I pressure her, she runs screaming. I think it is just a phase. You should probably back off from the swim class and give him more time.

we had the same problem with both our kids. It was so hard to listen to them scream and cry, but our teachers were VERY patient and we learned that if we didn't interfere, and we practiced with them, they overcame their fear of the water. They aren't the best swimmers, but I'm more comfortable knowing they can tread water and they love the water now. Also, neither of them remember the experience, so no permanent trauma.

Best of luck,

C.

I know it's been a while. And now that I really look at the date it looks like you only have a couple more swim lessons, so my thoughts won't apply.
I hope your son warmed up to the water. I was going to suggest asking if you could move him to a parent/child class, where you could join him in the water and do the holding/training. He might be more comfortable and you wouldn't really be giving in to his crying.
Hope everything worked out for you.

I'm not sure if this is an option by you...but at our local YMCA we enrolled our daughter in swimming lessons. The first one was called Pike with Parent. My husband or I went with her for 8 weeks. And now she's in Pike without Parent. And she has some difficulty because she's the youngest in this level (2.5)...but in general she does very well. Perhaps you can see if they have a different level for you or your husband to participate in with him :-)

Hi. I just want to say - perhaps if you talk to the Y they will let you get in the Mommy and Me classes - since your child is scared - they should the one I taught lessons at would. This will help build up to the class by himself. Tak to them and see if you can get into that class. It is a class where you get to work with him. Somewhere he has gotten afraid of the water. So you have to work to get rid of that feeling. It also takes a special teacher. I taught lessons at the Y here and I had many parents request me because their child was scared. You can't push them and some teachers do. It is also important that the child like the teacher. Can your child see you? It is important that he can see you also. But my big suggestion is ask to move tot he Mommy and Me class - they should allow you.

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