7 Year Old Scared to Swim

Updated on June 11, 2012
G.K. asks from Ridgefield Park, NJ
22 answers

I have a 7 year old son. When he was 4 1/2 yrs, I started him for swimming classes and most of the time he wouldn't go in the water at all. He would cry and be on the floor. So we stopped for a while and last year continued in another facility(with 2 full 8 week sessions) which had only 3 ft deep of water that was nice and warm. So he was bit comfortable but still didn't learn much and would just go in the water with the instructor and do bit of kicking,etc..Then had a break again as it didn't help and because of lack of time. Then put him in a private class at anothe facility.But most of the classes he won't go in the water. Even if he went, was having trouble in doing what they called rocket ship. So haven't learned anything even after 7 private classes.

So not sure what else to do. Some of my friends say to try after few years or some friends say to keep on trying but put him in group classes which are less expensive compared to private classes,which might help him to be comfortable in the water and finally he will learn. Not sure which way to go. But with group classes, each kid only gets 10 mts or less individual attention. So with my son being scared of water, it doesn't help much. Any ideas/suggestions are appreciated.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all of your responses. This is the first I am posting a question. Very glad and surprised to see so many answers and suggestions within a short time.

I will try some of the suggestions mentioned here and will let you know what worked for me.

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answers from Albuquerque on

He needs to start enjoying the water first. Take him to the public pool as much as you can and just splash in the shallow end. Don't force him to do anything. If all he wants is to put his feet in, go with it. Keep it up until he's comfortable getting in where he can stand. Then, and only then, try lessons again. I taught lessons for years and promise you that he will never get comfortable being forced. He has to like the water to learn.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

My 6 YO has been just about every lesson available here, since she was three. I have photos of her crying while the instructor was holding her in the water. She looked so scared.

It is so important to me for her to know how to swim because every other house in Vegas has a pool and there are a LOT of drownings here.

This summer, I put her in the YMCA and one of the coaches works really well with her. He actually works well with all of the kids. I thought she was really doing well and really showed an effort, except she keeps pushing her feet off on the bottom of the pool because she is tall and can reach. Anyway, last week was her first week of camp and when I picked her up, she was in the pool. I was watching from the window and she was floating on her back, pushing herself backwards and then floating, and looked very comfortable and confident. I took her to a party and she road on a floaty or noodle and said she was afraid. Even one of the parents told her she could swim because they watched her at the Y.

So the next 4 weeks are her swim classes while she is in camp. I will be at work and will not be hovering over her. Maybe she will graduate!

You don't mention if you are pool side or not. Have you tried walking away and not watching?

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answers from Boca Raton on

I would take him to the pool to play in an informal way . . . a park with a splash pool or smaller slides would be great. He probably needs to make the connection that water is FUN. Once he develops an interest he will be more amenable to lessons. Eventually he will want to swim on the same level as other boys his age.

I would not continue with formal lessons at this point. Living in Florida I'm very big on swim lessons from a safety perspective; however, if you can't get him in the water lessons are futile and can further entrench his resistance.

If you are around water frequently I would make him wear a life jacket until he develops proficiency with swimming.

Good luck.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

Here are my 9 year old's suggestions. He was afraid of swimming until about age 5 1/2. From Adam, age 9: Just take one step at a time, take it slow. Have your Mom go in with you and help you float, take nice big strokes with your arms and kick, kick, kick. Seeing my friends swim and play in the water made me want to swim even more. I resisted for a longtime due to my fear, but eventually the fun won out over the fear.
From adam's mom: I would keep trying. I didn't want to force my child, but living in Florida, it was imperative he learn to swim, so we just kept at it. Playing on the steps of a pool, going to hotels with a pool, splash pads, water park. We don't have a pool, so we had to get creative. The swim class at the YMCA terrified him, so I did get him private lessons w/ a young college girl and he would paddle around, but still not want to put his head under for a long time. At least he would get into the water w/ her and try. But when he was done, he was done. She would charge $20 a session (about 1/2 an hour). To me it was worth it.

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answers from Washington DC on

Welcome to mamapedia!!!

have you EVER taken your son into the water yourself?
have you EVER taken your son into the water for FUN ONLY?
If he doesn't SEE YOU in the water - playing, going under, swimming around and you are, in his eyes, forcing him to learn to swim - he's going to be afraid.

He's seven years old - ask him what his hesitation is. ask him why he doesn't want to go into the water.

Get INTO the water WITH HIM. give HIM the individual attention he needs to get COMFORTABLE in the water. If he sees YOU comfortable in the water - it MIGHT help assuage his fears of the water.

Then you can start looking into facilities that offer one-on-one care for people who are afraid of the water.


here's a question that was asked and answered too.


4 moms found this helpful


answers from Salinas on

It seems like the fun has been zapped out of this whole swimming thing. Is there someplace you can take him to just play in the water, preferably with you?
Is there a natural area a lake, beach, river you can bring him to wade and splash without the idea that he'll have to "swim". My kids grew up around water at the beach, rivers and yes pools too. Put a life jacket on him, bring some kids who are comfortable in the water and let him enjoy just being wet.
As he gains confidennce start taking him in the pool yourself or have your husband take him to free swim time at the local pool.
Your boy needs to experience how much fun swimmming is so he will have the drive to learn and he'll be able to dump the life jacket.
Make it a fun family activity and he might change his attitude.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I grew up until age 6 or so on the beaches in Honolulu. The zero-entry and mild surf was something I enjoyed, but I never learned to actually swim out there. We moved to the Mainland (Oregon) when I was six and then I was taken to the Y for swim lessons.

This was the worst thing in the world, to me. No low place to just sit in the water. I was a short kid even then, so even the 4' level was a bit much. (I had also been traumatized much earlier-- one of my earliest memories is my mother being baptized and thinking she was being drowned.) I *hated* the swim lessons, cried, would cling to the ladder, would barely blow bubbles.

Then at 8 or so, I was thrown into a pool with a floaty ring around my middle--and ended up upside down, nearly drowning.

I swim now and love it. I never took a class. It just took me years to teach myself to dog-paddle (at hotel pools, as I got much older), it took me forever to relax enough to learn to float. But I did it right before I went into the Navy. A friend had advised me that it would be better for me to learn before boot camp, or I'd be in 'remedial' swim lessons. That's all it took.
But I still swim with my face out of the water, like a dog. Not cool, but it works.

Give your son time, do as others have suggested: play with him in the water, where he's comfortable. Once my folks stopped fighting me on not wanting to go into the water, it made things much easier. Seeing siblings having fun in the hotel pools made it more enticing. Some things we just need to figure out on our own. My son is 5 and only just started getting comfortable with getting his hair washed (just nervous laughing now, not screaming each and every time anymore). Being fun, silly, confident that he'll do well and being patient that he'll get there on his own will help. If you have confidence that he'll 'get it' eventually, so will he. When you can see that spark of confidence, get private swim lessons as Cheryl C suggested.. there was nothing worse than seeing other kids looking on in derision, and kids are often grouped by ability, not age. Being in a group of 4s and 5s when you are 7 is a blow, to be sure.

Sorry so long--- just to tell you-- there is hope, even for the most hopeless cases like I was.:)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on

I'd skip the classes and just teach him yourself at his pace. Maybe he's uncomfortable with the group thing.

Kids learn to swim pretty fast if it's something they enjoy, it doesnt sound like he's really into it much.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I had people throw me in and thought I'd just take off swimming, people tried to teach me one on one and now at my old age I still hate water and don't swim. I had an aunt spend a whole summer in her home pool to just float and I did swim across the pool once and back. Then the second attempt I nearly drowned her as I was too tired and threw my arms around her neck. That was it for me and swimming. All I can say is some people hate water, don't enjoy it and your job is to do it as a fun thing and I would think the lessons would make it worse. I agree with those who said to make it a fun time and one with family and you can all show him how secure he is with you and maybe he'll overcome the fear. I don't feel I am missing anything by not swimming at all but I know most on here would not agree so keep at it for your son but I didn't appreciate all those trying to make me like it when I didn't either.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Oh gosh to I feel your pain. My 7 year old (girl) and 4 yr old (boy) refuse to go into water unless they can touch. We have never even tried swim lessons because there would be far too much drama involved for me.

My daughter is getting better and has been "thinking" about swim lessons. Both wear life vest pretty much anytime near a pool. Not sure why they are this way...both my husband and I were such water babies/kids.

I know I didn't really answer your question but wanted to let you know you are not alone.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

My son is ten and most recently WAS afraid of the water. Last year, we had him in group lessons, but it wasn't worth it because even though he was afraid, there was another child even more afraid and most of the attention went to that kid. Therefore, the other kids had to wait around.. (quite the waste of money) Also, I just wasn't impressed with the teacher(S) ..

After that experience, this year we opted for private and I have to say after only ONE lesson, my son said ok, he'd tried again.. Then we had lessons 2 and 3... now, we are going on vacation for two days where they have a pool and he can't wait to go into the water..

Bottomline... get another teacher.. sometimes I think it's a matter of finding the right teacher.. Private lessons cost a lot more but in my opinion so well worth it... Ask around (that is what we did) and this teacher was referred to us.. so glad she was..

Oh and yes, my son is older so you'd think less afraid, but in fact, over time his fear of water was growing..... therefore, keep working with your son. I think like anything, if you don't face a fear when younger, it can become worse as we age....

best of luck to you and yours..

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

He has to be comfortable in the water before he will learn much swimming. Take him places to swim for fun without the lessons aspect, and he'll see other kids enjoying it (and being able to go into the deeper parts of the pool, etc because they can swim), and it may give him more desire to learn. I keep my daughter in group swim lessons year round, even though she's at the top level for her age and is mainly maintaining until she can move to the next age group. Some of the other parents say their kids did NOT enjoy private lessons because it is intense concentration one on one for a full 1/2 hr with no break for them to decompress at all. And, being water becomes all work without much fun. The group lessons give less one on one time, but the kids interact and have fun. So, that may be the best way to go. Let the instructor work on him getting comfortable in the water, even if that is the ONLY thing he learns during that entire set of swim lessons. If he doesn't get comfortable and enjoy it, he really isn't going to learn the strokes and isn't going to like swimming. Also, do NOT stress over what he learns in class...let the teacher (the professional) do the teaching and the getting him comfortable without hovering over the pool or on the edge of your seat on the sidelines.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I agree with both posters below...first get him in the water just for fun. Take him to the pool and just play around...splash each other and encourage him to put his head or even face in the water...then maybe try diving toys...my son would dive for pennies and nickels (we started just 'diving for them on the steps}.

Then get him in a group lesson...this is a place where peer pressure plays in your favor. When my son discovered other kids his age not only were in the water but could actually "swim" he got over his fears faster by wanting to try and practice what they were doing.

My son is also 7 this summer and we are doing group lessons...last summer we just played in the pool with no pressure...but it was the other kids at the pool who really inspired him to get in the water and try new things.

Big hugs and good luck!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Keep him in the classes as often as possible. Swimming is a life saving skill. He won't be able to do many things as an adult if he can't at least dog paddle.

The more he sees his peers doing the more he'll eventually try, so do the lessons in large groups where there are all kinds of levels working at the same time. There will be a time in the not too distant future when he'll be too embarrassed since he'll be too far behind them and it will be very noticeable.

The more you enforce this the more he will appreciate it as an adult.

I can say this because I DID NOT LEARN TO SWIM UNTIL I WAS ABOUT 5 MONTHS PREGNANT. I learned I floated like melted butter on cold water...lol.

When I would go to Mademoiselle Fitness Center in OKC I would fake swimming so I would not be humiliated. I would stay in the water where I could touch the bottom and then I would stay right by the side. I would put my face in the water and keep my arm rubbing against the wall and sort of push myself forward with my one hand by the wall. It looked like I was swimming but I was frantically touching that wall for dear life. When I finally admitted to my friends that I did not know how to swim they didn't believe me. They worked with me that summer, my hubby at the time grew up in Long Beach and could see the ocean from his doorway, worked with me in the pool at the apartment complex. BY the end of that summer I could go under the water and swim across the small apartment pool. I had enough courage to leave the comfort of the edge of the gym pool. I still can't swim a lot but I do enough to save my life, perhaps the life of a child that is drowning, but as for swimming any distance or more than that, I probably can't.

If I had been offered swim lessons as a child it might have been different. He needs to go each and every session he can find. This way he will be so used to the water that he'll forget he's afraid. If he doesn't mess with one of the teachers then put him in a different group but take him, make him go in the door to the pool dressed for class, if he won't go in the water it falls on the teacher to deal with that. You need to just leave and let the teacher be the boss while he's there.

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answers from Washington DC on

it's a tough one. swimming is such a vital skill for littles to learn, but forcing one who's developed a fear of it rarely helps, does it?
while it's work-intensive, i think i'd try to take the pressure off by foregoing the lessons for now, but get him around water as much as you can. if you can go to kiddie pools, splash parks, backyard inflatables, any other water venues you can find, allow him to have fun at his own comfort level but watch other kids having even more fun as they swim, and see if it happens organically. if he hits 10 and still hasn't overcome the fear it might be time to try something else, but for now i'd let him proceed at his own pace, and just make sure he's always got a flotation device on if he's around water deep enough to swim in.

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answers from Chicago on

I suggest that you take him to a private pool. There you can have an adult he trusts stand in the pool to catch and you can throw him in. He would land right in the adults arms and be perfectly safe. I hope this solution helps you as much as it has helped me!




answers from Los Angeles on

In my opinion, the group swimming lessons may be the way to go. Once he sees his peers having fun then it might rub off.

I know my friends son is that way. He is scared to try any new activity, but if he goes with a friend, he acts like a big boy.



answers from Charlotte on

I know it doesn't do any good for you to hear to start swim lessons earlier in life. (It might help anyone with 2 year olds to hear it, if they are reading this thread, though.) It IS much easier to acclimate a child to water if you start early.

What you ought to do is get into the pool with him and let him "cling" to you. If he fights you on getting in the water with you, take away his favorite activity - TV, gameboy, etc. He is not a little kid anymore and he can do this. Swimming is a lifelong skill and could save him life one day. It will also be pretty wonderful for him when he's a young adult and all his friends are playing in the pool. Just because he can't "see it" now, doesn't mean that he should get the choice of going in the pool or not.

I know that sounds hard-nosed. But I really believe that requiring it of him now will make a big difference in his life later.

Get in the pool with him. Stay in there with him. Swing around in circles. Laugh, and really enjoy yourself with him. Jump up and down gently, letting water splash in your face. Get some of the paddle/kick boards at the point that he is more comfortable and both of you use them together. They keep you on top of the water but allow your feet to kick you forward.

What you should not do is take any breaks. I do recommend that as your son accepts being in the water with you and doesn't cling like Saran Wrap, that you hire a teacher for private lessons and take lessons together in the pool at the same time with that instructor. Even if you know how to swim, do the lessons with him. (Hopefully the instructor will understand this and not charge you for an extra lesson. The real reason you are in the water is to make lessons work for your son.)

Don't include an instructor until your son is no longer holding onto you for dear life.

Thankfully most people don't have to do this with their kids. However, for really difficult kids, it's the best option.



answers from Los Angeles on

I vote for group lessons. The kids get *WAY*more out of it then you might think, so I think your theory that him not getting enough 'individual attention' is not accurate...he will probably gain way more confidence by seeing other kids his age doing it then he has by all the private lessons you've tried up until now put together?

But only you know your kid...so go with your gut!


answers from Dover on

I suggest you stop w/ the lessons all together (at least for now) and work on his comfort level. If he isn't tall enough to stand w/ his head above water, he needs some sort of flotation device (and adult supervision either way). Get him in the pool, no pressure of actually swimming, just getting wet and having fun. Let him float on a raft, splash around, whatever. As his comfort lever starts to increase, you can work with him yourself...hold him up, have him start kicking and moving his arms, help him start floating on his back (while you hold him). He will start getting it. Then if he needs more help you can reconsider the lessons (maybe next year).

My kids were never scared of the water but at time did show reservations and the more we pushed, the more they didn't want to try. My son learned this way (but since he was 3-4 years old he's been swimming). He is now a certified lifeguard. My daughter is now 5, she has always been comfortable in the water but last year seems scared and wouldn't venture from us or her ring. Two weeks of our pool open this year and she jumps in with the ring, swims out and doggie paddles all around. She's starting to float on her back (under our supervision) but on her terms as she's comfortable.



answers from New York on

I feel your pain. I started my son on swimming lessons at 18 months and here he is at 5 STILL scared to swim. It's not even a face-in-the-water thing, because he will happily stick his face in the water (just did it today at the beach). He will even happily go down one of those huge pool slides over and over, like we did about 30 times in a row in Hawaii last year (I was always at the bottom to catch him). He just simply doesn't have the confidence in the water to actually swim. It's a huge pain because everyone around here has a pool (including us) and it seems like every house we go to for a playdate or a party all the kids are in the pool and my son complains and cries that no one will come out to play with him. And, of course, I won't even mention my fear-of-his-drowning nightmares.

Last year I spend a fortune on private lessons. He made a little progress, but it didn't really work. This year he is going to take swim lessons at camp (he starts tomorrow and doesn't want to go because of the swimming) and we're also going to try some guy known as the "swim whisperer" in a few weeks. Everybody swears by this guy. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will finally work.

I have to say I really have little understanding of what he's going through because I was never afraid of water and was swimming like a fish at his age. My mother, however, never learned to swim due to the polio scare back in the 30s and 40s (people used to think it was contracted in fresh water) and I have seen how deeply it has affected her quality of life ever since. He HAS to learn how to swim, like it or not.

Best of luck. Hope yours will be swimming this summer as I hope mine will be too.



answers from New York on

The earlier they learn to swim, the better, but you have to let him just play in a wading pool first. 3ft. of water isn't a lot to an adult, but it comes up a lot higher on a child and it's harder for them to stand in it, so of course it's scarey. The other thing is that they don't usually like water in their ears or eyes, so you could let him pick out some really cool googles. Don't keep saying he's afraid of water, because that becomes discuraging too. It's really not a fear;but being too sensitive to the feel of the water spashing in their face, getting in their eyes, and getting in their ears. The longer you wait, the harder it will be; because they won't want to go to a swimming class where everyone is younger than they are. Sometimes it's better for the parent to teach their own child, because it's one on one....no other kids, so no fear of being laughed at, no head dunking when they aren't prepared, no splashing by other kids, and you can take your time and follow your child's lead. You can even buy those swimming pool noodles for him to hang on to. My hubby used to have a contest with our son...Take 2 large mixing bowls and fill them with water, then have your hubby and son put thier faces in the water and see who can hold their breath the longest. It's really cute.

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