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Tackling Separation Anxiety During Swim Lessons

Jul 26, 2021

Authored by Emlerswim

Separation anxiety is part of a parent’s life, especially if you have young toddlers or infants. While it is usually a passing phase, there are times in your child’s life when you really do need to separate from them. During formal swim lessons is one of those times. Although this is not true for any child under the age of two – caregivers should always be in the water with children younger than three years old – if you have enrolled your child in swim lessons, then you may need to tackle the separation anxiety before your child can learn to swim. Here are five tips that can help you ease the transition from land lover to fish baby!

Give yourself plenty of time.

Maybe you thought the first tip would be for your child directly, but it’s actually for you, the parent. Arriving at class with enough time to get ready is really important, especially on the first day. Get there early to fill out paperwork, sign release statements, and find out where your child needs to be before class starts. 

If you are rushed and everything is hectic up until class time, then you can expect it to be hectic and rushed for your child as well, which often leads to tears and frustration. Give yourself plenty of extra time to get to your destination and try to dress your children in their swimsuits before leaving home, so they are ready to go once you get to the pool. 

A calm, happy parent usually translates into a calm, happy child, so remember to breathe and leave the house with plenty of time.

Crying is normal and even expected.

It’s hard to watch your child cry, but it is a completely normal response, especially if your child has never been to a class before. Don’t react with disgust or impatience – there is no shame in crying when you are a kid. It’s a communication and coping mechanism that helps them deal with something new.

Being in the water without their primary source of support is a new experience and can be uncomfortable for kids until they learn that they are capable of being in the water with only their instructor. All instructors are taught to bond with each student so they feel secure and help each little one experience only fun and joy in the water, so kids quickly adapt to their new and challenging environment.

Be patient – bonding with an instructor takes time.

Expect it to take around three classes for kids to bond with or trust their teacher and get used to a new class. This is why we have parents in the water with their child for the first few classes in the Super Waterbabies level (usually two-year-olds). Once the child feels safe with the instructor and sees that YOU are also comfortable, then we transition them to experiencing the water with only the instructor. If they are still apprehensive, we set up some acclimation time or circuits where they can focus on playtime and having fun. This way, they start associating the pool with fun time, not scary time.

If necessary, bring something familiar.

Sometimes to help adjust to the new environment parents are encouraged to bring a toy or “lovey” from home that can provide an extra layer of comfort for the child. Whether it be a special blanket or a stuffed animal, having this special item with them should ease your child’s anxiety about the class or being apart from mom or dad.

If your child is more motivated by rewards, feel free to bring a special treat or surprise that they can have after the class is over. Every child is different, and only you know what works best for your child.

Sometimes the best strategy is to avoid eye contact.

Depending on the individual situation, sometimes the best strategy is to stay in your child’s sight but not make eye contact. Depending on your child, you stay so the little one doesn’t feel left behind but avoid giving them sympathy through direct eye contact. Often, once a parent is looking elsewhere, the kiddo will stop crying and focus their attention on the instructor. This allows them to stop looking at their caregiver for confirmation that they are okay and focus on the teacher instead. Usually, the little fishies get so interested in splashing around and learning to swim that they completely forget about mom or dad. That can be an ego hit for you, but it’s also an important step in the child’s growth.

Sometimes parents are more upset than the kids are when the tears start, but again this is very normal, especially for kids transitioning in Super Waterbabies (for two-year-olds), or the Aquatots, Preschool Beginner, and Beginner classes. Don’t let that be a reason that you or your child quit coming to swim lessons…we want to empower each child to try something new and learn a valuable life-saving skill that they can use at any age.

Give us a try! Our proven curriculum combined with hand-picked, caring instructors allow us to offer our 100% swimmer guarantee. Start by finding the right class for your child.