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How to support your anxious child

Being able to take your child swimming can be a really magical experience for both of you. However, it’s not so enjoyable if you or your child starts to become stressed or anxious about going to your swim sessions.

There are many different styles of teaching and swimming schools to choose from, just like there are people. Choosing the right one for you and your child is really important so you can make sure you get the best experience and your child comes away wanting to go again and again, because they’ve had so much fun. Children learn best when they’re enjoying what they do.

What can cause anxiety?

From around 6 months – 3 years old it is a normal stage of development and very common for your children to have separation anxiety. And some children may naturally be more likely to have worries or be overly shy.

Whilst safety around water is paramount some of the lifesaving methods that various schools adopt like purposely forcing babies as young as 6 weeks old under the water, turning them over and pushing them to the side – is the type of treatment which can quite easily be classed as a traumatic experience and quite possibly for your child to develop anxiety problems around water and learning to swim. In fact many adults we see in later life who haven’t learned to swim cite the reason for being scared around water or remembering a traumatic experience to do with learning to swim.

How to create a great experience

If you have a child who has a tendency to worry then preparing them before the event can often help:

  • Story telling – There are a number of books like Topsy and Tim which tell stories about everyday experiences such as going swimming. Reading a book like this will give you and your child plenty of opportunities to talk about swimming and what to expect.

  • Visit the pool first – Ask the swim school you’ve chosen whether they’d be willing for you and your child to come and have a look around the pool before you sign up. Swimming pools can be an over load for the senses, so seeing how your child responds and getting them used to the new environment will really help.

  • Create a routine – Before you even get to the swimming pool try to leave plenty of time so you’re not rushing. Often when rushing you are less likely to have your full attention on your child so may not notice the signs of distress. Take your time and make it fun. Singing songs or playing a game can help distract them and get them in the right state of mind for having fun.

  • Setting the scene – Be mindful of the way you use your voice, it’s tone and the words you choose. Frame the experience of going swimming so it sounds exciting and really fun to be doing. Plant ideas of what they might be doing so they can have an idea in their minds that’s positive and evokes their interest. This will also help put them in a good state of mind for when they arrive at the pool.

  • Keep your calm – More importantly try not to become too over protective or anxious yourself. Over 70% of communication is non verbal and so our children are very good at picking up our body language and feelings. By focusing on having a nurturing, fun time will benefit you both in creating those special memories together.

Supportive Teaching

Often children won’t have the vocabulary to be able to tell you how they are feeling or what they are experiencing. The signs of anxiety or stress will come out in their behaviours. At this point as a teacher or parent it is important to stay calm and give them some time out away from the lesson to calm down and level out their emotions so they join back in or not as the case maybe sometimes. It’s important to try and be in tune with the children you teach, they are all different and the more you can get to know them the better your relationship will be and the better experience you will both have. And in turn create many great confident little swimmers!



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