Teaching Children to Swim without Fear

Many parents and adults recognize the value in learning to swim: for water safety, enjoyment, and fitness. But people often come away from swim lessons frustrated that they can’t “get it,” or worse, have been traumatized by an overly zealous teacher who dunked or let go of them in an unsafe way. All in the name of helping them “get over their fear.” Well, I’ve never wanted to send the message (especially to a child) that they can’t trust me, the teacher. Think about it: if you can’t swim and you can’t stand, the person supporting you is literally protecting your life. In addition to taking this responsibility seriously, I never wanted my students to associate swimming lessons with unpredictability and danger. How much are we really capable of learning when we feel as if we’re always at risk of drowning?

Trust, trust is what you want to cultivate, both in you if you’re the parent, and trust in the water that if we learn to relax in it, we are more likely to float on it.

For some of us, sheer willpower can get us to swim, but there’s always an element of unease or anxiety that keeps us from fully enjoying the water or swimming gracefully. This unease might manifest as a lifetime of difficulty breathing while swimming front crawl, for instance. For children, if that fear isn’t transformed during lessons, the learning process will be nigh impossible.

The dynamic within swim lessons that creates lifetime non-swimmers is a lack of respect for a person’s state of mind during the learning process. As if we could just skip over that whole psychological terrain and solely focus on coordinating one’s arms and legs. But water, if any medium does, reflects our comfort and confidence back to us. Anxious, tense swimmers sink and struggle to make headway. Comfortable, confident swimmers glide through the water with barely a ripple.

I often preface my work as “learning to swim without fear.” If you can deal with the fear, the rest of the swimming comes rather easily. Tune in next week when I’ll give advice for what you can do in the shallow end to improve your overall swimming.

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