A couple of moms have asked me lately, "What do you recommend in regards to swim lessons for a fearful 3-4 year old? Should I wait until he is ready? Should we sign up for private lessons?"
Here is my long answer:
I think group lessons are typically better. It's rare, but I occasionally find a child who is better off in private lessons or better, at least to start in private lessons, and then transition to group lessons, but it's very seldom.
It is best to get your child going now. It is WAY easier to teach a fearful child between the ages of 3-4 than it is an older child, and they get over that hump much faster. It's crazy what a 3 year-old will do for a Dum-dum!
The best thing you can do as a parent for your fearful child is to tell him that you are signing him up for swim lessons because you want him to always be safe AND because it's fun! Don't discuss it if you have a child who will do anything to negotiate his way out of things. Just tell him that he needs to learn to swim then change the subject and refuse to discuss it.
You can also help your child by checking out books at the library about swim lessons. Just pick up one or two along with some other books so that your child doesn't see that you have an agenda:) Read Froggy Learns to Swim by Jonathan London or watch it read aloud on youtube- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OJVsBmqnLw or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqv4tFpbIjs. Other book suggestions: Ruby Learns to Swim written by Phillip Gwynne and illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie; The Deep End written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Mitch Vane; The Deep End by Rebecca Patterson; Freddie Learns to Swim by Nicola Smee; or do a quick google search- there are too many to list!
Make sure you put your child in a class with a good, knowledgeable, experienced, kind instructor. Praise your child for going to lessons. Celebrate every milestone. Acknowledge that trying new things can be scary, but tell him that once he has done it a few times it will be easy-peasy. Lastly, don't give up on lessons until he is swimming! If there continue to be tears and anxiety, talk with teacher. Make sure the teacher is aware of your child's anxiety, but tell your child that learning to swim is not an option. It truly is a life skill if your child will ever be near water; it is something he must know how to do.
Sad story- My husband, twins, and I were canoeing a few years ago when we came upon a drowning accident where a 24 year-old male had been walking a path along the Chattahoochee River with friends who were horse-playing. He was bumped into the water and could not swim. None of his friends could swim. He was an arm-length away from the rocks and surfaced, but then sank and did not resurface. Those boys had not planned to go in the water.
You want your child to be strong enough and skilled enough to save himself should he ever have to.
My mother-in-law required all five of her children to swim on swim team for 4 years. When she first told me that, I sort of thought she was crazy (but I aspire to be like her, so crazy is good!). Her reasoning was that if they had swum on swim team for 5 years, she wouldn't worry about them if they were ever around the water. As I thought more about it, I began to see the wisdom of her advice. What one person calls "swimming" may or may not be enough skill to be life-saving. A number of years on swim team will ensure a competent level of swimming.
Coach Mandi has been teaching and coaching swimmers at the USA, summer league, high school, and Masters