How We Overcame Swim Class
Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I feel like I pulled out all the stops to change this boy’s perspective on swim class. But, for now, it worked.
I took the following steps leading up to last week’s swim class, and tried to document them below so that it can be helpful for any situation where your toddler is resisting: school, dance class, birthday party, summer camp, etc.
1. Pair the undesired activity with as many positive associations as possible. For us, this included the following:
- Getting to know the names of the other kids in the class and talking about them outside of class
- Learning the names of teachers and talking up how helpful they are
- Giving one jelly bean before class (to remind him just how great they are) and two jelly beans after swim class if there were no tears
- Going to the park after swim class — an activity that he always loves (Note: we may not go to the park every week after class, but initially pairing an activity that he loves with an activity that he did not love was really helpful)
2. Give as much perceived control as possible
- Do you want to swim with your goggles or without them?
- Which color jelly beans do you want after class?
- Which towel should we bring? The blue one or the dinosaur one?
- What snack do you want? Goldfish or Pirate’s Booty?
3. Use photo evidence when discussing the activity during the course of the week. Take and show pictures of the following:
- Your child enjoying the activity (or at least not hating it/crying)
- The environment (pool, classroom, bathroom, etc.)
- Other kids enjoying the activity
- The teachers/coaches
4. Talk about previous undesired activities that your child overcame
- Remember when the slide at the park was scary at first? Then you tried it and had so much fun! Sometimes things feel scary at first and then you realize you like it.
5. Read books together that highlight feelings or activities your child can relate to (I truly believe in the products I write about, however, the links below are Amazon affiliate links.).
- Over the last week we read Llama Llama Misses Mama several times, and I highlighted certain aspects of the book for Keener. At first, Llama Llama missed his mama and didn’t like school. Then he remembered, Mama always comes back! Then, he loved school and had so much fun with his friends and teacher. That’s kind of like you with swimming! At first you didn’t know your friends and teachers and now you do and you love swimming!
- Even more on point, Jabari Jumps is a great book about overcoming fear, and is swimming related. At first, Jabari was scared of the diving board. But he finds the courage throughout the book to overcome his fear. Highlight the similarities between the character and your child (how they felt before, the process to overcome scary things, being brave, how they felt after, etc.). Books are a wonderful way to ‘learn’ alongside the character.
6. Give your child the language to use to talk positively about the undesired activity (even if it isn’t quite true, yet).
- For example on the way to swimming, I would say the following: At first I felt sad at swimming, but now I really like it! The toys are so much fun to play with and my teacher helps me.
- Another example is highlighting situations where he or other kids feel sad or scared. When I picked Keener up from school the other day, he was telling me about a boy who was scared to go down the slide. I said the following: If I am feeling scared or sad, I can tell myself, ‘I am brave. I’m going to try even though I am scared!’
7. Start talking about it casually a few days before the event, when your child is in a good mood
- Mention, with mild excitement, that the event is happening soon.
- Be prepared to be met with “But I don’t like _________.” Do your absolute best not to overreact.
- Respond calmly. I know you are feeling a little scared/sad/nervous. It’s ok to feel that way. Swim class is on Wednesday. Your teacher can’t wait to see you! Do you think all of your friends will be there? I hope no one is sick!
- Don’t talk about it too often or bring it up during a challenging time such as when your child is tired or in the middle of an emotional moment about something else.
- Look at the pictures on your phone together during a playful time. Let’s look at the pictures I took of you in swimming last week! Be ready to lead the conversation, but also give enough space to listen. You may learn more about why your child is resisting.
8. Be mindful what you are giving attention to:
- When Keener starts to whine about not wanting to go to swim class, I am careful not to give him too much attention at that moment. I am happy to give him attention, but not for whining.
- I remind him to use his “big boy voice” to communicate his needs.
9. Make a “book.”
- I printed out the pictures that we had been looking at on my phone and added a few captions.
- That way, he could look at the pictures anytime he wanted to and we could read the book together.
- Bring the book to the undesired activity and read before it starts to give an extra boost of confidence
10. Have the confidence to know that you are doing what is best for your child. I want Keener to learn how to swim, and I know that new experiences are good for him. But at almost 3, I don’t expect him to say “Hey mom, thanks so much for these swim lessons and teaching me to be brave!” Trust your gut and follow through.