When N swam with Water Babies I wrote a post on how to get your child to love swimming. In one of those strange blogging occurrences that post disappeared, so I decided to rewrite and share our experience. I certainly found comfort in talking to another mum who’d gone through similar experiences to me when swimming with N as a toddler. So the more information and tips parents can take on board and try, can only help.
The background to our swimming journey was up and down, with N crying each swimming lesson for a year from the time he was cruising out of the pool until a miraculous turnaround where he suddenly loved it. At the start he was fairly happy, he just disliked going underwater, but in the worst weeks he would cling to me and not take part in any of the activities. We tried many things, with advice from the teacher, another mother who’d been through the same talked through her experience, and we took a few lessons out before starting back again.
All children are different, some love swimming, others hate it, and others are like N who change their mind with no way of knowing why. One interesting thing that Water Babies explained is that at the time babies start pulling themselves up and cruising, it’s quite usual for them to get water wobbles at that stage. These usually pass after a few weeks, I don’t think the teacher was expecting N to moan for a year! But it’s reassuring to know that there’s nothing in particular wrong, and that it does pass.
There are some things you can do to help smooth the way of babies and toddler’s enjoying their swimming lessons or informal time in the water.
How to get your child to love the water
1. Start early
We started Water Babies at 3 months old, but you can start babies earlier if the water is warm enough. Young babies love the water because it reminds them of being in amniotic fluid, and quite often you’ll see preschooler starting swimming lessons in tears because they feel fear at that age and babies don’t.
2. Get them water ready
Get them experiencing water, let them enjoy bathtimes and used to lying in water. Take them in the bath with you and make sure they’re used to having water splashed on their face.
3. Get suitable swimwear
Babies feel the cold. Unless the pool is a hydrotherapy pool which will likely be over 30 degrees and therefore warm enough for no wetsuits, other pools are quite often a bit colder and a neoprene wrap or baby wetsuit is a good idea. Even with wetsuits on some babies feel the cold more than others, so put one on them to help give them a bit of warmth. They’re also really handy to keep hold of them because they’re less slippy than bare bodies.
For peace of mind a double nappy system of disposable (or waterproof cloth equivalent) and a neoprene happy nappy avoids any panic of poo in a pool. That means the parent will enjoy the session more and give off less nervous energy to the child.
For older children let them choose their swimwear, and if you’ve a boy (or girl) who feels the cold more, you can always add a rash vest on top.
4. Use toys
Baby and toddler swimming lessons use a lot of props, and if you’ve a child who dislikes swimming pools, but is happy in the bath, the bring along a bath toy from home. It should make them feel a little more relaxed.
5. Take it slow and speak to the teacher
Yes you might pay an extortionate amount of money for swimming lessons, but don’t worry if they don’t join in everything. And it’s even more embarrassing when they cry the whole lesson. N used to cry but I could tell that it was more of a moan than a painful scream, so it was a case of working through it and letting him do his own thing. Luckily our teacher suggested when we could do different things and made alternative activities for us to do. It’s definitely worth asking the teacher for ideas – and they’ll have the experience to suggest different things
6. Try different swimming pools
If you can go swimming outside of lessons too so children can see swimming can be able play but is also about learning. For older children explain that one pool is for fun but that lessons are important for safety. You might find that there’s something about the pool that is the problem if they’re happy in a different one. It could be the height of the sides or the way you enter the pool. Something that seems silly but that sensitive children might not like.
7. Keep talking to them
It’s so important to keep talking and reassuring them. I found that telling N what we were doing, and what was coming up helped a little, and the verbal connection does help their understanding of timings and no surprises.
8. Get the other parent to take them
Most families stick with the one parent taking the child swimming. For us it was always me – the OH isn’t a particular fan of swimming and he’d never have taken the time off (5 years later he’s never seen N swim!), but other families had their dad’s take the baby swimming and those children always seemed to progress faster in our class. The dads would be more rough and tumble, the kids would love being chucked around, and fewer clung. Even though I love swimming I think when a child isn’t so keen on swimming, adding an extra parent or changing it around, can always make a difference.
9. (For the bath) don’t overfill
N was always ok in the bath but had a month or two of hating it as a toddler. Talking to other mums I realised that some of them didn’t put as much water in the bath so I reduced the amount I put in. And miraculously he was back to enjoying baths again. It might have been a fluke, but it’s worth trying.
10. Work through it
If you have a child who cries all lesson and won’t take part, it is demoralising when you see other children loving it. But yours will get through it. Take a few weeks off if needed, but in that time do leisure swimming so they still see it as a routine activity. We missed a term, and then started back, still unhappy, but at the end of the term had a breakthrough. Our teacher really encouraged N and me, and this really helped us keep going when we’d have probably given up otherwise.
After 5 years of swimming, N still can’t swim 10 metres without a float aid, but he loves being in the water. He does moan about going to lessons but he knows it’s for safety until he’s strong enough at swimming to not need lessons. Once at the lessons, he takes part in everything, does what he’s told, and talks about what he’s done afterwards. So keeping going through the worst times was the best thing for us.
Hopefully these tips will help if your baby or toddler isn’t keen on swimming. Do let me know in the comments if you have any other tips or how things go if you try these.
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