How to Terrify a Toddler – Swim Edition

As I mentioned in Weekend Recap – Hula Hoops and Baths, I started swimming lessons with M this week. Based on her recent fears of changing her clothes, changing her diaper, and baths, I was not optimistic. All weekend, we talked up swimming lessons. She could wear her Minnie swim suit! It would be fun! She could learn to splash! We talked about all the people who love to swim: Mama, Dada, Grammie, Grandma, etc. How convenient that all her favorite people love to swim (wink wink)!

Adorned in her Minnie Mouse swim suit and sandals, she willingly walked into the recreation center and pool area. For the first lesson, B would go into the pool with M and I would watch from the side. Once she saw the water and kids in the pool, M became clingy and uncertain. She didn’t take her eyes off the pool.

By the time the instructor took attendance and covered safety best practices, it was already ten minutes into the thirty minute swimming lesson. Thank god.

From the moment they walked into the 3-foot pool, M was screaming and clinging. I could hear her little voice booming throughout the pool area, “No, Dada, no! Get out! Go back! All done! Go over there!” All of the other toddlers and their parents were singing Wheels on the Bus, and my kid was screaming for her life.

She literally clung on and screamed the entire time. After it was over, I asked her about swimming.

“Do you like swimming?”


“Do you like the water?”


“Do you want to come back?”


On the bright side, she zonked out early Monday night. Anyone else’s kids take of their PJs in protest?


Last night, we went back for Round 2. I anticipated we wouldn’t even get her in the water. This time, both B and I went in with her. It was definitely helpful to have us both in the water to encourage her, play with her, and contain her.

Round 2 was infinitely better than Round 1. She participated in the Hokey Pokey and Wheels on the Bus. However, she still yelled the whole time:

“Get out, Mama!” “Go over there!” “All done!”

With five minutes left, the instructor kindly suggested M was cold and we could take her to the warmer wading pool if we wanted. We politely declined. We wanted M to participate to her fullest and didn’t want to teach her that she could give up. She had made it 25 minutes and progressively improved, surely another five minutes was fine.

Two minutes later, the instructor came back and, while still polite, excused us to the wading pool. She then asked if we planned to return on Monday. Yes, of course we were planning to return!

For that day, we took the hint. We had been dismissed by the teacher.

What did the instructor do to help?

For the first lesson, NOTHING. B and M were completely isolated away from the group as he was trying to console her. The instructor hardly even acknowledged they were there. I was pretty disappointed. B was frustrated because the instructor is supposedly the expert and surely has some tips for how to help. And offered nothing. At that rate, we may as well just take her to a community pool ourselves instead of paying for lessons.

The second lesson, the instructor paid more attention to M and tried to include her a little more. This was helpful for us to try to keep M positive and the instructor provided some affirmation to M as well. Then banished us to the wading pool.

Were the other kids as scared?

Nope! Surprisingly, M was the only kid afraid of the water. I couldn’t believe it. While M was screaming her head off, they were all surfing on floaties.

What she disruptive to everyone else?

No. The pool area for our lesson was big enough that we could move away from the group activities when we needed to regroup and it was loud enough that her yelling blended in with the rest of the normal kids-in-a-pool noise.

Were the other parents sympathetic?

Heck no. At times they even seemed to be annoyed by M and judgmental we were keeping her in the water. One even shot me a look when M wanted to try their large, shared floaty. To them I say this: your turn will come.

At some point in every kid’s life, they will be the scared kid. Get over yourself and your future Missy Franklin.


Are you going to keep taking her?

Absolutely! The second lesson was way better than the first. It’s only going to get better as she becomes more comfortable. At this age, it’s not about learning from crawl or the butterfly stroke. It’s about feeling comfortable and confident in the water, which in turn will lead to better swimming and water safety later on. We are taking it slow and at her pace. She isn’t disruptive, just not as participatory as the other kids. I’m willing to bet by the sixth lesson, she is on par with everyone else.

For more information on how to make swimming lessons less scary:

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