How to handle tears at the poolside?


It’s the first swimming lesson. Your child seemed ready for their first lesson, growing more excited as the day arrived. But as soon as you walked through the door, the tears began.

This is pretty common. A child who is very excited about a future event, can suddenly feel overwhelmed when the moment actually arrives.

Do you know why the tears come?

Separation Anxiety

This is a natural part of growing up. Even if you’re simply at poolside, your child has been accustomed to being able to reach out and touch you. 

New Experience

Being in the water – and especially in the pool where lessons are given – is a new experience in a new environment. This new experience is exciting and a little frightening at the same time. It simply takes time for your child to get used to.

Personal Pace

Children learn and progress at their own pace. Your child’s tears may dry up when they see others enjoying the water or experience how good it feels to splash about in the water. Or it could take them a few lessons to develop the level of comfort they need to happily approach the lesson.

The magic number of lessons that it takes to clear up the tears is 4. This gives even the most upset child enough time to develop trust in the instructor. We always recommend our parents give it 4 lessons for their child to settle - the difference from week 1 to week 4 can be amazing.

Does your child have additional support needs?

For some children, this experience is a little different. Children with additional support needs, including those with down syndrome, autism, sensory issues, ADHD, issues with motor skills or other concerns, the tears can be driven by other factors.

Our instructors are trained and experienced in working with children with additional support needs. They’ve not only been trained in how these children may be feeling and what can be bothering them, but also in how to approach them and encourage them to learn skills that they will enjoy. 

Please always inform the instructor or Lucy and Calvin if your child has additional support needs. This ensures that we can work with them and provide them with the best lesson possible.

What will help your tearful child?

Here are 6 things you can do to help your child through swim lesson tears:

1. Stay in the viewing area but out of the direct line of sight for your child. Children tend to settle easier and quicker if they can’t see you. Your child must build trust with his/her instructor, but they can’t compete with you. If they see you, they will want the immediate security you offer. After building just a little trust – without you in view – your child can focus on how much fun they are having in the water.

2. Support and encourage – continuously. You may find this a little contradictory to staying out of direct view, but it works. Your child will turn around and look for you for encouragement and show you what they’ve learned. When they do, be ready with a quick thumbs up. After the lesson congratulate them and provide plenty of praise for a job well-done.

3. Reinforce the positive. Getting in the water, not crying, learning new skills, listening to the instructor… celebrate all of this and your child will be more likely repeat the positive action at the next lesson. A gentle reminder of all of this positivity just prior to the next lesson will help your child remember what they should do again.

4. Practice at home. We provide all our customers with a handbook - in this handbook are some ideas and suggestions about practising in the bath. This is especially important for our preschoolers. The more comfortable your child becomes with water, new skills and doing activities independently of you, the better they will do in swimming lessons. Please always supervise your child when in the bath.

5. Keep coming to lessons through the initial tears. We know it can be very difficult to persist through the tears, but its always worth it in the end when you see your child enjoying the class only a few weeks later. If you stop your child’s lessons because they cried the first week, it not only shows your child that quitting without really trying is acceptable, but it also shows them that swimming isn’t very important. This is far from the truth since swimming is an important lifelong skill that all children should learn. Many adults we teach regret not having had the opportunity to learn to swim as a child when learning new skills is far easier. 

6. Swim, swim, swim. Take every opportunity for your child to swim whether it be fun at the weekend, on holiday, at the beach etc. Your child will learn to love the water and the fun activities they can do in and around it and will thank you when they are confident, competent swimmers in years to come.