We Quit Swimming Lessons, But We Aren’t Quitters

I’ve been taking my daughter to swimming lessons. If you read The Mom-Suit Dilemma andย How to Terrify a Toddler – Swim Edition, then you know it’s been a trying experience.

M is two. She’s never been in water before, aside from the bath tub. She likes baths and Minnie Mouse, so her Minnie Mouse swimming suit is the bee’s knees. My husband enrolled her in swimming lessons because it is a) time for her to get acquainted and comfortable in water b) a fun family activity c) relatively affordable. The first lesson, M screamed the entire 30 minutes. She clung to my husband for dear life. I’m surprised he still has any hearing left. The second lesson was better! She vocalized her feelings (“Get out, Dada!” “Dry off, Mama!” “Go home!”), but didn’t cry and sort of participated. Everyone was optimistic!

Unfortunately, her comfort level has not improved, it has greatly diminished. Now, not only is she terrified of the swimming pool, she also protests bath time. We now perform “standing baths”. In other words, she stands in the tub screaming while one of us quickly scrubs her down. If bath time is a disaster, imagine a 100-foot long, 3-foot deep tub!

On Wednesday night, M reached her limit (and ours). Before she even got undressed at the pool, she was scared. She refused to participate at all in the lesson. She screamed. She clung to me. She wouldn’t even sing Twinkle Twinkle, her favorite jam! Her little teeth were chattering. After 15 minutes, B and I surrendered. It was time to take a break for a while. We whisked her out of the pool while everyone else sang “Wheels on the Bus”.

Originally, I was adamant about staying in the lessons. I don’t want M to learn that if she doesn’t like something or it scares her, she can quit. I want to raise her to be resilient; I want her to persistent and persevere. That was when she was improving. Now, she was nothing but terrified. Here are my thoughts in that cold water Wednesday night.

I don’t want her to think she can just quit when she’s uncomfortable

I know this sounds ridiculous since she’s only two. I really don’t want to inadvertently teach her that if she protests loud enough, we will let her quit whenever she doesn’t like something. That’s not how life works. But she’s only two, and this is just for swimming lessons right now. At home, we are very consistent with discipline and behavioral expectations. We will try swimming lessons again soon(ish).

Her fear impeded on her learning

She wasn’t getting anything from the class. Because she was so scared, she basically just clung to one of us while we stood in the water, watched, and tried to convince her otherwise. She was not having fun and getting more comfortable. She was not learning how to move her arms, her legs, or that life jackets are cool. She was just afraid.

By forcing her, she was becoming less trusting of her parents

I want M to always trust her Mama and Dada. I want her to always know we have her best interests and well-being in mind. Yes, sometimes that does mean challenging her comfort levels. However, she’s only two. She doesn’t have that level of critical thinking yet. Her world is so black and white: safe vs. unsafe, good vs. bad. These are life lessons that I will save for when she is a little older. For now, I want her to always trust us and feel safe with us.

If she ever feels uncomfortable or unsafe, I want her to speak up and feel heard.

Ever day, we talked up swimming lessons. We kept telling her how fun it would be, how cool swimming is, how great her teacher is. Then she would get in the water and see otherwise and be (very) vocal about it. Then, we would repeatedly take her back. Even though we know she is safe, she didn’t feel that way and she kept telling us that. I don’t want her to think we are ignoring her feelings.

It wasn’t fun for her

Swimming lessons are supposed to be fun and help kids be comfortable and confident in the water. M felt the opposite: terrified, cold, and unsafe. Perhaps in six months, we will try again. My current mission? Convince her bath time is fun.

14 thoughts on “We Quit Swimming Lessons, But We Aren’t Quitters”

    1. Thank you! I’d rather wait until she’s a willing participant and not only develops the skills, but an appreciation for water.

  1. I’m a firm believer that kids know when they are ready for something. I don’t think forcing it is the answer. My son was terrified of baths for the longest time but I focused on making it fun for him and now I have trouble getting him out! Its ok to follow their pace and allow them to reach their own milestones =)

  2. We tried our first organized sport last summer -soccer. My son begged me to go for weeks so I finally signed him up . Every single practice was him overwhelmed and wanting to leave . He sat on the sidelines picking grass. After 4 practices we just quit. And though I felt bad we did , he thanked me for not making him go anymore. He said it was too loud and there was just too many kids running around. He was only 3 at the time and he has sensory issues so maybe in a couple more years we will try again !

    1. Thank you for your encouraging comment! I hope your little one finds a sport or activity that fits his needs and interests.

  3. I think you made the right choice. How heartbreaking it must have been to see your child terrifed of the swimming pool and now the bathe! Hopefully she will overcome this fear in time, but if not that’s ok. And the fact that you “quit” this in my mind doesn’t count….you did what you had to do for the safety of your child. It’s not like you could have told her to “push through the fear”. That’s B.S. Good luck!

    1. Thank you! I’m sure she will overcome her fear. She’s at an age where fears develop left and right too. Until then, we make bath time fun!

  4. I think taking a step back and taking a break for awhile is definitely the way to approach this. I feel that toddlers don’t take to the water as well as babies, and the earlier you start the better. We started our little in swim lessons at 8 months. There was 2 and 3 year olds in the class as well. It seemed like all of the one and under kiddos were the happiest. Swimming is definitely a skill every kid needs to learn and be comfortable with because it can be life saving. I hope the break helps with you little one, and she’ll be more comfortable when you try again!

    1. Thanks for your insight! It definitely seems like everyone else in our class has been doing lessons since they were infants. I’m sure she will do just find once she’s a little older and ready.

  5. We had a similar experience with our youngest at that age (he’s 5 now) & I have to agree, you made the right call. Some kids just don’t jibe well with water and if you push them too much then they won’t even want to get in the tub! What worked for us is going often and letting him stay in his comfort zone. In fact, now that I think about it, our 12 y/o was very much this same way except we made the mistake of pushing her with it. It DID NOT turn out well.

    1. Thank you! I so appreciate everyone’s support on this post. I really hated the idea of quitting, until things started going downhill. We made it through 6 of the 8 lessons, so I’m not upset about losing money either. Yesterday, she had a lot of fun in the tub. Perhaps we will hit up the splash pad soon!

  6. My daughter was the same, so I just started taking her to the community pool on our own time (it’s an indoor version of a splash pad that wades deeper into a full-on pool). I plopped my butt down in the 2″ splash area and let her explore on her own terms. She could walk in an out of deeper water (no water at all – to ankle height to chest height) whenever she liked, and she very quickly learned to challenge her own limits. ๐Ÿ™‚ Your babe will get there.

    1. Thanks for reading, Josh! Glad you were able to make the most out of Hawaii. It’s a very special place.

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