DS, age 7, goes to a Maritime charter school in which 8 weeks of swim lessons (1/week for 8 weeks) are required in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. DS is in first grade. He has developed a fear of the lessons, and said that what scares him is being near "so much splashing," being afraid someone will pull on his swim noodle and he'll sink. He has become very strident in his desire not to go to swim class. He was really distraught about it on the day of class (yesterday), so I told DS he could sit on the bleachers, that he didn't HAVE to go in the water. I emailed his teacher this message, and then she emailed me back that swimming is required, like reading. So, we worked out that DS could sit by the edge of the pool near 3 girls who are very calm and don't splash a lot for most of the class and do one lap with the instructor holding him, and away from the splashing of other kids. He agreed to this when his teacher presented it to him and when she helped him call me on the phone when he said he wanted to talk to me before going to class. I reitereated the plan and asked if he had other ideas about what would make this easier for him. He didn't. So he agreed to the plan.
I asked the teacher to have him rate his anxiety when he got in the water and when he got out, and asked that they wait for the anxiety to drop to 1 out of 10 before he gets out, and said I don't really care whether he swims the lap or not, I just want the anxiety to go down, if if that means holding the ladder and standing there until the anxiety goes down. Well, at the end of class, the teacher took him to a part of the pool away from other kids and held him while he swam his lap (DS doesn't know how to swim independently). He reported anxiety of 5 when he got in the water and 10 when he got out. I shouldn't have expected the teacher to know how to talk him through waiting out the wave of anxiety until it peaks and gets small again. Not exactly good for reducing fear. His classmates acknowledged his bravery during "circle time" in school, and one even gave him a shell, a symbol of showing strength and resilience in their class culture, and encouraged him to do more. He had none of it. He was upset about having to go in the water, and upset about feeling scared of sinking, per his report to me.
Now he says he doesn't want to go to swim class anymore. I've talked to him about what's hard about this for him and would could make it easier. He mentioned that he wishes he could play marco polo with some friends, or go on the same day his best friend, who is in another class, goes. Teacher said we can't change the day he goes, but that he can play marco polo during the free swim part of class, but not during the lesson part of class.
I'd love to hear ideas about how to make lessons a little easier for him, how to work with teacher and swim instructors, and how to help him through a situation that is now fraught with angst for him. Next class is Thursday... my goal is to help him learn skills for handling situations where big feelings of fear come up. Not worried about the swimming b/c we'll spend two weeks by a lake this summer and I know he'll warm to it (he did last year). Thank you in advance for your thoughts!
I don't have much advice for you. My DD who is 4 is also afraid of swimming class. Swimming lessons are non-negotiable in my house. She has swimming lessons once a week. In addition to the lesson, I also take her to a public swim once a week during a quiet time at the community pool. I'm hoping that the increase exposure in a completely non-pressure environment will help. I don't want her fear of swimming lessons to turn into a fear of water. We don't work on swim skills at all, she just plays however she wants, even if that mean staying in the shallow end. It appears to be helping.
Can you go and observe the class? Depending on how the instructor is (and the ratio of instructor to kids who can't yet swim) your son may have some very valid fears concerning the class. I think I would want to view the situation for myself before making a decision how to proceed. This might need to be handled as an issue relating to your son's fear or it may need to be addressed from an overall safety standpoint.
Can you get him some outside swim lessons. In AZ we have a place called 'aqua-tots' and they go from ages 6mos to 14 years and they are GREAT with kids. DS goes there and loves it. DS loved the water but hated the thought of 'lessons. After 10 years I found this place and 2 mos in he is going strong and actually listening to the instructors. They have the class fun.
I would really get him some outside classes and see if you notice a difference.
As for the school part of the problem. Honestly, everything can be changed. If your child was in the wrong level math class the school would accommodate him, if he was in the wrong level reading class he would be moved to the correct level. It sounds like your son needs a different level of swim lessons at the school. Go and watch the class, see what is going on and take it from there. (and supplement with independent lessons)
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I'd try to go swimming an additional day every week, just you and him. The more he is in a pool with someone he trusts the better he will feel about swimming.
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My mom, who was always super supportive of her shy, introverted, non-athletic, cold kid, would write a note every year that I was sick and would not be allowed to go in the pool. She lied for me. I would sit at a picnic table and work on homework instead. I was SO appreciative. I'm sure my teachers knew it was b.s. but they let it go.
I learned how to swim just fine, with one-on-one lessons from parents and bits of swim lessons here and there over the years (camp, a community center, etc). It worked way better for me to be a little older, in much warmer weather, with more one-on-one attention, and also just to spend a lot of time playing in calm water on my own, experimenting. And to do it all at my own pace. I'm a strong, comfortable swimmer today.
I'm not saying this is the perfect solution or even an option for you. But it worked out great for me -- I am so grateful that my mom was "on my side" and let me blossom at my own pace. (Which I totally did.)
Have you talked to him about it as a thing that won't change? Sometimes kids do better coping and finding a way to deal with the situation when they know that the situation can't be ended even though it would be nice if it could be. I would find out first if it is truly mandatory by calling the principal and seeing if he can opt out due to his fear level. If he can't then I suggest that you talk to him about who is in and around the water during the lessons to make sure he doesn't drown and tell him some stories about things you have had to overcome that really scared you at first. My dd loves to hear stories from me and her grandparents about being scared and working through it bravely. I would also not be above giving my dd a tasty treat after each swim lesson day if it was only for a short period of time. Even though my dd loves her lessons we always do a doughnut at the end of the month as a thing to look forward to for giving up that time twice a week to do lessons (a doughnut twice a week is a lot but there are other things that your son may like that are healthier but still a treat). Bringing him to a kid pool to play and swim may also help him become more comfortable in the water on his own terms.
It may also help to treat the worry about the splashing as something that is more of an irritant than an actual fear and addressing what he can do about it. Sometimes kids take their cues on how to feel about what is going on from us and it sounds like he may struggle with anxiety already. Kids irritate each other in many small and large ways throughout the course of the day and there is often a sequence of events teachers expect them to follow to handle these things (ask the child to stop, tell them to stop and move away if possible, tell the teacher). Unless your child has an IEP that specifically states that the teacher will handle your son being anxious the exact way you ask her to it is very unlikely that she will spend a large chunk of time getting him to stop being anxious, especially if she has seen him respond well to not being given a chance to stay and dwell on a task that worries him before being made to do it. It sounds like there is not a ton of adult supervision if the splashing has become such a big problem so her being with just him for a long period of time is going to take away from the supervision and instruction the other kids receive.
At most, I would ask if they will allow you to substitute another swim class (a private lesson situation, perhaps) and give them a certificate or letter of compliance by August.
I think it's probably too much for them for you to ask them to make special exceptions inside the class structure. They may not have the ratio to give him the attention you want him to have. Also please be aware that him sitting out or doing class differently could cause problems with the other kids and all sorts of "I'm scared, I want to sit on the side like he is" could erupt. If not this year, next year.
Or I agree with the other poster. Why don't you take him to a pool where he can stand, as often as possible, every day if possible, and have him do the swim lessons with his class but with you getting him in the water regularly to lessen his anxiety?
Perhaps arrange for outside swim lessons with a one-on-one instructor, either in lieu of school swim class or in addition to it. I think he really needs to learn to be comfortable in the pool if this environment is going to be successful for him. I doubt however that they will allow him to skip the class if it is a big part of the schedule and class structure.
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