Winter may seem like the least ideal time for a dip in the pool, but even when the months turn cold, swimming lessons must be a top priority. There a summer of long waitlists and density caps, the cooler months give parents the perfect opportunity to take advantage of quieter enrolment periods and get children into their very first swimming lessons before the summer rush.
But busy enrolment periods might not be the only barrier to starting swimming lessons. Sometimes, a toddler or child might simply feel reluctant to get into the water, or perhaps find excuses for not attending swimming lessons (“itʼs too cold to go!”). In these situations, some parents might feel tempted to postpone or let go of the idea of lessons entirely. However, both options could set back the development of your childʼs swimming skills and see them unprepared for the upcoming summer fun.
The truth is, the fear of swimming (or the fear of water, also known as aquaphobia), is a common fear amongst infants, toddlers and older children. Luckily, there are several techniques to help children tackle their fears and help them become confident and competent swimmers. The first trick, however, is to identify their fears and understand why they might be afraid of doing swimming lessons in the first place.
One of the biggest obstacles children face when starting lessons, in general, is the destabilising fear of water as a result of having experienced a negative or traumatic event. In these situations, they might have once found themselves vulnerable in a water-based environment, which has inhibited their desire to get into the water ever again. In extreme situations such as these, where a child might have a complete fear of water rather than the pool, experts recommend using systematic desensitisation. This approach involves breaking down the process of getting your child comfortable in water into baby steps. For example, get your child comfortable with water by putting their head underneath a running tap first, before slowly moving into a bath, and then a paddling pool. Reward them with each successful attempt in a diﬀerent body of water. Over time, you will see your child gradually becoming more confident in tackling bigger areas of water and eventually approaching swimming lessons for the very first time. You might be surprised that they ever had a fear of water in the first place.
Another common fear children may face when starting swimming lessons is that of an unfamiliar environment, including the noise, activities and smells associated with the pool. Sometimes the hardest part when starting swimming lessons, especially during winter when the weather might be bad, is the journey from the car to the centre! In situations like these, where the fear of the environment plays more of a barrier to swimming than the water itself, it is important for parents to play their part in becoming engaged supporters. Remain positive and relaxed, and find ways to get your children excited for their lessons. Help them get changed into bathers at home and invite them to prepare a swim bag ahead of time (include a spare change of clothes, towel and extra layers — just in case!). Bring some snacks along for the journey as well as for a post swimming lesson treat, and play their favourite songs in the car journey to the centre. And finally, validate your childʼs feelings and never feel agitated or judgemental of them for dealing with their fears. If anything, parents play an important role in reassuring their children that they are capable of overcoming their anxieties around the pool. Having a relaxed, engaged and positive adult figure supporting a child throughout their journey to the swimming centre and back, will help to take the pressure oﬀ any fears, and help them to realise that the swimming is not really as bad as they may think.
And lastly, the fear of having to meet new people and make new friends, more generally known as social anxiety, might be a factor in a childʼs hesitancy to start lessons for the very time. Though this might be a challenging commitment, social anxiety can be tackled by staying close to your childʼs first few swimming lessons until they feel comfortable doing lessons on their own. Having your child know that someone is near and present to be with them throughout their entire lesson is an eﬀective way to help them feel like they are not alone, until they are able to make new friends. Alternatively, parents can find a centre with small class sizes or even look into taking one-on-one lessons, or even smaller private lessons with siblings, if appropriate, whilst they build their confidence. Going for a swim in smaller pools that donʼt have recreational swimming or distracting water slides, or heading to the centre during non-peak times, may also be eﬀective strategies to deal with significant social anxiety.
Regardless of the many reasons why children might feel reluctant to start swimming, it’s essential to not make any of their fears a big deal, especially in the lead up to any lessons. It is a perfectly common, natural, and perhaps even expected feeling when tackling something new and challenging for the first time. At Kingswim, all swimming instructors are trained to pick up a childʼs fear of swimming and the water and will know the best techniques to overcome it. Kingswim also has supervisors on the pool deck who can be used as extra support to help get your child comfortable with the environment and the water. With your help and guidance at home, and in the hands of trained and professional swimming instructors, feel rest assured that your child will be able to tackle anything that they may be afraid of; including swimming lessons for the very first time.
Kingswim has taught more than 18 million swim lessons to Aussie kids over the last 30 years, and oﬀers programs for babies from 12 weeks of age, right through to graduate level swimmers. With 20 centres across Australia, find more information on programs and swimming lesson classes at www.kingswim.com.au.