How swim lessons taught me how to pay attention to my child’s limits


Last month after two classes, we pulled Sweet Girl out of swim lessons.

We tried swimming lessons last winter, and though we toughed it out to the bitter end, it was a less-than-great experience for everyone involved.

Sweet Girl didn’t enjoy the cold water and the noisiness of over 100 boisterous children learning to swim in a echoing swimming pool. She didn’t enjoy the lack of transitions between the different activities we participated in in a given lesson.

And she definitely didn’t enjoy the stress of wondering whether her mom or dad was going to dunk her head under the water (even though we rarely did and if we did, it was part of the lesson and we’d always tell her beforehand).

No, Sweet Girl was definitely not a fan of swim lessons. So we took a break and when summer’s warm weather rolled around, enjoyed free time at our local outdoor pool, our neighbours’  backyard pool and at the beach.

The entire summer she loved being in the water.

We practiced kicking, jumping into mom and dad’s arms and putting our faces to the water. Yes, we had a grand old time just hanging in the water.

Sweet Girl was also quite taken with the lifeguards and their role in keeping us safe. That we needed to stop and listen to them if they blew their whistles and asked us to get out of the water.

Here’s a photo taken last week of Sweet Girl being a lifeguard. She said putting the orange belt on is what makes her a lifeguard. Oh and Spike, also in the photo, is her “lifeguard cat”:

My little lifeguard and her “lifeguard cat”.

Come the fall we thought Sweet Girl would be ready for some formal lessons and so registered her for classes. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

In lessons one and two, our normally happy, go-lucky girl got anxious the minute we joined her swim lesson group. She refused to participate in the activities and began crying when it was suggested she practice jumping into the water. Something she knows how to do. And has done. Fearlessly. All. Summer.

Since it was obvious Sweet Girl wasn’t enjoying herself, we pulled her out of swim lessons. Instead, we’ve been taking her to the pool during public or family swim time. And wouldn’t you know…we again have our happy, go-lucky girl who loves to play in the water.

This is an interesting lesson for  my husband and I about our daughter’s emotional readiness. While we want Sweet Girl to learn how to swim, we aren’t going to rush her. She simply isn’t ready.

She’s a bit of an introvert, slow to warm to new situations and we recognize the structure of the swim class is over-stimulating and over-whelming to her.

Like a lot of toddlers, transitions from one activity to the next are hard for her. A 30-minute swim lesson that packs in a bunch of different activities doesn’t give her the time she needs to warm up to one activity and then prepare herself for the next.

Add into the mix uncertainty due to the newness of these activities and serious fear she is going to be dunked under water (it doesn’t matter how many times we tell her we won’t, she is fixated on this fear). Well, Sweet Girl isn’t having any fun at all.

While plenty of toddlers can handle the structure of these swim classes — otherwise why aren’t there more children screaming their heads off at the swimming pool during lessons? — mine cannot.

Sure, encouraging her to try new things and to test her boundaries – those are all ways to build her self-confidence. I get that. I see the value in it. However, pushing Sweet Girl to do something she simply isn’t ready to do…won’t build self-confidence. It’s going to erode it.

We will come back to swim lessons most certainly. However, I’m not stressing that she doesn’t know how to swim yet. I didn’t learn until I was six years old when one of my friend’s taught me. She will learn. When she’s ready.

Curious, how old were you when you and/or your children learned to swim?

8 Responses to “How swim lessons taught me how to pay attention to my child’s limits”

  1. Karen

    I never took swim lessons. Even though I grew up in Florida, my brothers and I all skipped that rite of passage that seems so prominent these days. That isn’t to say that I didn’t learn how to swim or that it isn’t useful, but I don’t think lessons are necessary for every child. Or perhaps not every child is ready at the very young ages that so many parents feel pressure to start them.

    I know many people want their kids to learn as early as possible, but we have intentionally not signed Brandon up yet. I want him to learn to swim and become a strong swimmer who is safe in the water, but structured activities when we’re around don’t go well. (I’m not sure what that says about us. ;))

    Anywho, you just keep doing what is best for her and things will work themselves out.
    Karen recently posted..So…apparently I lied to Brandon’s teacher this weekMy Profile

  2. Melany Gallant

    Thanks Karen – you’re so right. I don’t think lessons are necessary for every child either. At least not at this young age. We signed her up last year and this year because we thought it would be fun. Something she would enjoy. Boy were we wrong!

  3. Tweepwife

    I love how you are listening to her signals and responding. I think that is awesome. Our kids took lessons from quite early. DD loved the water and the group lessons, and eventually became a lifeguard herself. DS became anxious in the water after an episode of anaphylactic shock the spring he was five. He couldn’t bear feeling unable to breathe. Classes for him were out after that. We took a break and then went with private lessons. He never loved them but he became a very competent swimmer and is now a wading pool guard in the summer. But he needed the individual touch to progress.
    Tweepwife recently posted..More Than EnoughMy Profile

    • Melany Gallant

      It is about the signals, isn’t it? And paying attention to them. I had a real fear of the water in the early years of my life and it’s not something I want my daughter to have. It’s interesting how your son overcame his and now is a wading pool guard. Talk about full circle!

  4. Chantal

    Interestingly both my older boys HATED swimming lessons. I had my oldest in mommy and me swim classes when he was a baby and he held on to my neck so tightly I could barely breath. Yet same as your girl, he loved public swim with DH and I. I didn’t do the baby swims with my middle boy and opting to wait till he was 3 thinking that would work. Not so much. Pulled him out. I haven’t even tried with kid 3.

    That being said, both the older two can swim. My mother (who has a pool in her apartment) is a big reason for that. She is a patient teacher. And just letting them do it on their own time is great. I doubt I will do lessons for #3.
    Chantal recently posted..a slice of timeMy Profile

    • Melany Gallant

      Chantal, Thanks for sharing your children’s experiences with learning to swim. I’ve often wondered if I had taken Sweet Girl to mom and baby swim classes if that would have made a difference. Based on your experience, maybe it wouldn’t have at all!

  5. ingrid

    I don’t remember when I actually learnt to swim – I just know that I have been swimming all my life. I do remember taking lessons as a young girl. Learning to dive off the high boards. I didn’t keep my legs together so the instructor decided to tie them together. That didn’t turn out too well as you can imagine. Not sure why you learnt from a friend…I thought that you and your brother took swim lessons together. I know that your sister had special lessons for those who had issues. Do you remember swimming in GM’s indoor pool? That was awesome.

    • Melany Gallant

      Mom – ya totally took swim lessons but didn’t learn a thing. I clearly remember being in the YMCA pool with a friend during summer camp (I was six I think) and she stating in disbelief, “You don’t know how to swim? Here, do this.” She showed me how to doggy paddle and that was it. I could swim. Oh and I do remember Grandma’s pool. It was the best!

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