Parents often ask us “how much crying is normal in swim lessons?” The answer? There is no “normal” in swim lessons! While watching your child cry can be torture for any parent, we all know a tearless childhood is impossible not to mention unnatural. Crying is actually a good, healthy, and normal human response. Infant cries act as alarms for parents, alerting them to pain, hunger, or discomfort. In general, a feeding/burping, diaper change or a good nap can comfort an infant’s cries.
As children grow and develop, crying also becomes a form of emotional communication. Until children have the ability to express their feelings verbally, they use crying to communicate dislikes, discomfort, etc. It’s important for parents and teachers to identify why the child is crying in order to find a solution for the tears. At LPB we train our teachers to identify these types of crying:
- Fear: Clinging to the teacher, island or side of the pool, shaking, can sometimes be silent/no tears
- Separation anxiety: Reaching for, crying for caregiver
- Anger: Hitting, splashing, kicking, yelling or other aggressive behavior
- Pain/Discomfort: Water in the nose, grabbing nose, pulling nose, crying immediately after submerging
- Tired/Hungry: Lethargic, clingy, steady cry, yawning, etc…
Once we’ve identified the cause (or causes) of the crying, we work together with the Deck Support and caregiver and come up with a plan of action. For example:
- A fearful student needs to gain his trust with his teacher. We can put in an extra teacher to allow the fearful student extra one on one time with his teacher to help emphasize that the student is safe. Lots of promises are made and kept here, “We’re going to kick in the tube now, and I won’t let go”. No tricks allowed, just bonding.
- Students suffering from separation anxiety also need to form a trusting bond with their teacher. An extra teacher may get in, or we may play let’s make a deal: “If you stop crying, mommy can stay on the deck. But if you’re crying mommy has to go to the viewing room”. The idea here is that the students’ emotions can be distracting when the caregiver is nearby, making it difficult for them to build trust with their teacher. Again, no tricks here….as soon as you stop crying, mommy comes right back out.
- Then there are the students who are just plain angry! This wasn’t their idea, they don’t like it and they’re gonna let us know. We see this every so often; these students have passion, determination and the ability to express themselves (not surprisingly, they often turn out to be our most confident, strong swimmers). Teachers are trained to avoid power struggles with these angry students, and to continue sending the message that they are OK and it’s time to swim.
- Pain or discomfort is most commonly caused by water in the nose. At LPB we use all types of tools and methods to avoid this because… it hurts! We use “nose huggers”, snorkel masks and teach “Balloon Faces” to help seal off the sinuses and prevent water in the nose.
- Sometimes students may cry simply because they’re tired or hungry. In these cases we discuss the possibility of adjusting class time to accommodate nap or feeding schedules. Sometimes it’s just a one off situation…like being too tired after spending a week in Disneyland for example.
While crying for months on end is not common, we typically see a decrease in crying after about 4 weeks of consistent attendance. Even if it means your child didn’t cry the last 5 minutes of class, that’s something to celebrate! Teamwork between LPB staff and the parents/caretakers is crucial in getting these students over the hump. Children need their parents to be guiding beacons in times of uncertainty. Here’s what we ask from YOU:
- Arrive to class early: Rushing in the door in a panic doesn’t help calm an anxious student. Watch the other students swimming and point out what fun they’re having in their class!
- Consistent attendance: Coming to class each week sends a message to your child that “you are OK”. Inconsistency sends them a message that swimming isn’t important or safe.
- Talk it up! Be sure to use positive language when talking about swimming around your child. It won’t help them to hear you tell another parent “Johnny is freaked out about swimming”. Instead try, “Johnny is being very brave at swim class, each week he’s having more and more fun with Teacher Anya”.
- Be the cheerleader: After swim class, point out a specific thing you saw your child do that was fun, successful, brave, etc… For example, “I was really proud of you for giving Teacher Anya a hug at the end of class….isn’t she nice?”. Or, “I saw you make a big splash when you were playing on the magic carpet!”
So, why stick with it? Why not just quit, take a break or wait until your child is older? Because drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for children under the age of 5 in California. Not every child needs to learn how to play the piano, but every child needs to learn how to swim.