Hello parents! As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I teach a lot of infant and young child classes where my swimmers’ parents get in the water and it’s my job to teach them to teach their children. Because of my constant exposure to this type of program, I tend to see different parenting styles that come into contact with my curriculum – some that truly benefit the swimmers, and others that definitely do not. When dealing with a hesitant or fearful swimmer, there are certain techniques that can really encourage them to get out of their heads and find joy in what we’re doing in the class.
First, the language we use during infant and young child classes is deliberate and direct for the sole purpose of teaching our swimmers – especially those that don’t talk yet – to associate verbal cues with actions. Sometimes, we get swimmers that begin understanding what the language means and the anticipation leads us to some feedback about how they’re feeling in the situation. When you’re experiencing resistance, fear or any other form of feedback around a certain drill, I implore you to stick with it and encourage them with praise and optimism. If we suddenly pull back and comfort a swimmer in response to their hesitation, it tends to acknowledge that something “bad” might be happening, as this is how we react when problems arise outside of the pool as well. We always want to to show our swimmers that we’re confident in the work that we’re doing and praise them for trying their best. If our body language and actions are genuinely expressing confidence and excitement, our swimmers are going to begin to shift to match that. It might not happen overnight, but I can promise you that you’ll see a shift within a few classes if you stick to you commitment around this.
I’ve been experiencing some parents who find peer pressure to be a useful tool during challenging situations and I’d like to address this by saying STOP. Stop what you’re doing immediately. Like seriously, stop. If I hear “Why don’t you want to jump? Everyone else is doing it,” one more time, I’m going to explode. Why would we, as parents and adults introduce a toddler to peer pressure? Let’s start teaching our swimmers, and children in general, to do things for themselves and not because others like it or seem to find it fun. A more empowering way to approach a situation where your swimmer is shutting down and refusing to participate is to get on their level and figure out what part of the drill isn’t working for them. Discuss alternatives that still get your swimmer engaged in the activity, but introduce it in a lighter, more comfortable way for them. Always encourage them to try, but if something isn’t working, figure out as a team how to make it better!
The best thing to do when working with a swimmer who is resistant, or fearful towards specific skills or swimming as a whole, is to break down the activities to their most basic form and stay on their level. Use your language more than your hands to get them into the correct positions and tell them exactly what they’ll be doing before they do it. Nothing in a swimming lesson should ever come as a surprise. Now, if a swimmer begins acting up because of the language being used, lighten it up to meet their level of comfort. So instead of “doing unders,” we’re suddenly only “getting our eyes wet,” or “looking for fish in the water.” The trigger word disappears and although there still might be hesitation, the weight of the skill has disappeared.
Working with a nervous swimmer requires patience and empathy at the very least. Being able to remain calm and be there for your child by empowering them to work through their fears is what makes you the one person who they can rely on unconditionally. Don’t let your personal expectations for them prevent you from standing for your swimmer during a time that they feel is challenging or impossible. Take the time to get to know what’s working and what’s not and feel free to ask your instructor for new ways to speak about skills or games that can make the activities more exciting. We’re here to ensure that all of the kids in our classes are learning to swim and having a great time doing it!