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What to do when your child is afraid of swimming lessons

If your little one is afraid of stepping into the pool, here's how you can help her overcome that fear.

Your preschooler’s swimming lessons were going so well until last week, when he mistimed his strokes and swallowed a mouthful of pool water.

Now he says that he doesn’t want to continue with his lessons and that he is not going back there again. It’s time for you to help Junior regain his confidence.

The first step is to get him back into the pool as soon as possible. Of course, you should be empathic, so that he knows you understand his confidence has been rocked by that incident.

Explain that you know what it feels like to gasp for air and find your mouth full of pool water. Tell him how you are not surprised he wants to give up swimming lessons after such an incident.

But make it clear that he is going back into the pool, anyway. If you can, take him there the next day, and reassure him that you’ll be with him so that he has nothing to worry about. Ignore any protests, and respond with calming reassurance.

He has to realise that returning to the pool as quickly as possible is non-negotiable.

No pressure
Once you get to the swimming complex or your condo pool, you and your kid should get changed speedily, without any unnecessary delay.

Then, enter the pool at the shallow end and put your arms out so that your child feels protected as he slowly climbs down. Give him lots of praise and remind him that he’s there to have fun, not have a lesson that day.

When he is in the water, stay close to him and let him do what he wants, whether that is to hold on to the handrail while rooted to the same spot or to try swimming a stroke or two.

Related: How to encourage children to try new sports

What matters is that he gets physically back in the water – that’s half the battle won. It might help if you take one of his friends along, too, although that means you have to keep an eye on two children instead of one.

After this lesson-free session, the second step is to tell your little one that before he goes back to swimming lessons, you will have a chat with his coach about what happened.

Teachers don’t like to have dropouts from their class for any reason, so she’ll want to know exactly what happened and she’ll probably want to speak to your four-year-old about the incident as well.

That’s another step forward, because the better the communication between the coach and your child, the quicker his confidence will be restored.

What a brave boy
You may need a few more lesson-free visits to the pool before your child feels comfortable in the water again.

Each time you take him, let him do what he wants during pool-time and give him lots of praise and encouragement for being such a “big, brave boy”. He’ll enjoy your attention and support.

Third, arrange his next swim lesson. If he normally learns in a small group, you could ask for his next lesson to be an individual one, with just him and the teacher.

Remind your child that he has nothing to be afraid of, and point out that he recovered from that unpleasant accident without any ill effects.

Take him to the pool on the day of his lesson and explain that you will be watching nearby.

Even if he is nervous, he’ll almost certainly go into the pool to meet the coach. All that’s needed after that is some sensitive handling by the coach, who will probably allow your kid to learn at a slightly slower pace, at least for the time being.

And, before you know, he’ll be swimming confidently once again.

Related: 8 ways to create happy childhood memories

(Photo: 123RF.com)

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