Should Scared Children Continue Swim Lessons?

A man and a baby boy in a swimming pool
Jutta Klee/Getty Images

Should a scared child continue swimming lessons? Many parents are quick to take the easy way out when the child doesn't like something right away, like swim lessons. They think "I'm not going force, my children, to take swimming lessons." This is often justifying or rationalizing that they are doing the right thing when they decide not to be firm on swim lessons (or something else).

You must first understand there is not one universally correct answer for today's topic.

I am going to address some critical considerations that I hope will help parents make the right swimming lessons decision for their children.

My wife (Supermom), made a profound statement to a friend of ours, "If you think parenting is easy, you are doing something wrong." There is nothing more rewarding than being a parent, but parenting is tough. If it were a walk in the park and all parents did it perfectly, most children would grow up to be picture perfect human beings. That's not the case, and no parent is perfect. It's so important that we work on being good parents to our children, which means making hard decisions for our children.

I do want to point out 3 reasons that you should stop swimming lessons and get out of a swimming lesson as fast as possible:

  • Your child's safety is in question.
  • The teacher or program doesn't allow you to watch the swim lesson.
  • The teacher is "causing" your child to cry by forcing skills on your child (vs. letting your child learn through natural progressions when he/she is both skills ready and mentally ready).

    These three reasons are really quite simple, and to me, it's really pretty "clear-cut." Now let's talk about some reasons why you should continue swimming instruction even when your child doesn't seem to be all on board at the start.

    First and foremost, swimming lessons save lives. Because of this reason, you need to find a teacher or program that will allow your child to enjoy the process.

    However, like many other things that we as parents do for the health and well-being of our children, sometimes you have to make sure your child knows that not learning to swim is not an option and that you, the parent, are firm on your decision. It's really that easy, but it can be difficult. Let me share with you some personal examples that you may appreciate.

    On July 4th, I took my family to watch a local fireworks display. When it was time to go, my two-year-old son, Nolan literally threw a fit when it was time to get in his car seat and buckled up. After my struggle to buckle him in, he proceeded to kick, scream, and cry for the next 15 minutes. So I ask, do you give in and say "okay, I don't want to force him," and let him run wild in the back seat of a moving vehicle, or do you make the decision for his own safety?

    Here's another: as I dropped my three years old (now 7 years old) off to preschool he cried as I left the room, which made my heart ache. Do you teach him if he cries that he will get his way or do you teach him what he is capable of doing and what he is capable of becoming when you're not there?

    Think about your own personal examples like bedtime struggles, your child getting a shot at the doctor's, or even some dangerous things that your child would have done if you let him do whatever he wanted.

    As a parent, you know what's best for your young child better than they often do, and you are being a good parent by taking a stance. As a parent, you have to teach your child about rules, boundaries, and common courtesy so you don't raise a child who thinks the world revolves around them. As a parent, you take a stance because you're a good parent and you don't even think twice about it. But when it comes to making a decision for your child like whether or not to stick with swimming lessons, the answer is not always easy.

    I can't tell you how many parents come to me with a 10, 11, or even 12-year old that tells me that their child needs swimming lessons because they are embarrassed that they don't know how to swim and their friends do. So peer pressure is the reason they are now finally going to learn to swim?!?!

    I am the first to agree that it's never too late to learn, but why wasn't this done earlier?

    Drowning is second only to automobile accidents in the occurrence of accidental death among children ages 1-14, and the leading cause of death in many southern states. Even in other states, when you think about how often children are in the car vs. around the pool, drowning may be a bigger problem than we think. (Please note: I do want to add that like many other things, swimming lessons are not always affordable for all parents. My organization, as well as many others, are actively working on securing grant dollars and sponsorship programs. 

    At any rate, what prompted me to write this article is one of my teachers/employees, who is an excellent teacher I might add, who does take a child-focused approach as do all my teachers, told me yesterday that she had a five-year-old boy who's dad was going to pull him out of our program. Why? Because he was really nervous about putting his face in the water! She said the young boy participated in the entire class He even kicked well on his front and his back. But just because his dad saw he was really nervous acting on the first day and didn't seem to like it too much, he was going to pull him! Again, nothing, including putting his face in the water was forced on him. In my opinion, it was just first day jitters. It makes me so sad to think that this young boy is not going to learn to swim. It makes me sad to think he is going to learn to quit at whatever isn't comfortable for him.

    My two year old had his two-year-old physical today and I was talking to his pediatrician about tantrums. I found her initial input very profound: "If you're two years old isn't throwing a tantrum now and then, you're a way to easy on him."

    Parents, keep your children safe at all costs and don't complain about your strong-willed child, be a strong-willed parent. Your child will thank you when he or she is old enough to understand.