When Sydney was about to turn two, everyone we talked to about swim lessons said the experience with Austin's well-known “Swim Whisperer” was really tough to stomach, but that it was worth it. It was supposed to be worth it because, at the end of the 5-day class, Sydney would know how to swim and we wouldn’t need to worry about her drowning in a pool. Well, it was every bit of the nightmare people had warned me about. And it was not worth it in our case.
The fist day, Sydney screamed for Mommy and cried and gulped down gallons of water and scrambled to get out of the pool 15 minutes later when the first lesson was over. Meanwhile, I had barely been able to breathe while trying to encourage her. She was almost comatose by the time she dragged herself out of the water and I just held her in my arms and whispered that I loved her and how proud I was of her effort.
The second day she was even more upset than the first, since she knew what to expect. From the minute she woke up that morning, she started saying, “No pool Mommy.” And because I felt like it was still the right thing to do, I said she had to go, but not to worry about it – that it was much later in the day and that I’d be right there. I’d been planning for Chris to deal with this, since I’m pregnant and already emotional enough, but he was in London the week a spot opened up, so Grandma Kit and I got to bear the burden. She started crying more than an hour before her lesson, even though we did our absolute best to distract her. She screamed even louder getting into the pool, cried most of the time she was in the pool, and threw up pool water when she got out.
Days three and four didn’t go much better. More crying and screaming. Not a whole lot more progress.
On day five, we got to join her in the pool – Daddy was finally back – and she seemed a little bit happier that she got to swim to us. But she still wasn’t really “getting it” in terms of kicking her legs. She would glide at a snail’s pace under the water and I’d will her to kick so she wouldn’t breathe in pool water and choke. But I did feel that if she fell into the pool, there was a good chance she wouldn’t panic and would be able to get herself to the side and climb out. The only positive out of the experience.
We were supposed to take her to the pool that weekend and practice what we learned, but while I was balling my eyes out Friday night getting the entire week’s tension out, I told Chris there was no way I was going to make her go under the water. If he wanted to, that was his choice.
Saturday morning when Chris mentioned going to the pool, Sydney started crying immediately. We told her she didn’t have to go to the pool if she didn’t want to, and then spent a long time trying to help her understand that going to the pool was different than swim lessons, and that the swim lessons were over. Late that afternoon, we went to the park down the street and when we peeked in on the kids swimming, Sydney decided she wanted to get in. She was so determined to swim that she started taking her clothes off! Chris ran home to get Sydney's swimsuit and we spent an hour playing in the pool with her. Phew – at least she wasn’t scared of the water or permanently traumatized. We’ve been going to the pool every weekend since, and sometimes she’ll say, “Sydney wants to go under,” while crying and she’ll even try it once and then remember what it’s like and not want to do it again.
In the end, maybe Sydney was just a little too young? If I had it to do over again, I would try several other alternatives first.
A year later, we enrolled Sydney in swim classes at Emler’s Swim School. We were careful to call it “swim class” instead of swim lessons after our previous swim disaster. This time around, we went slow and she enjoyed it. It took a LONG time for Sydney to get comfortable going under water. It seemed like she was never going to do it on her own. Every class, she'd tell the teacher, "I don't want to go under the water!" They were very patient with her. We didn't push. We found an instructor we loved and had her work with Sydney one-on-one. And then one day, out of the blue, Sydney decided she "wanted to go under water the whole class." And that's just what she did.
Lessons Learned Recap: If you have a strong-willed, sensitive child like we do, it's probably not worth potentially scarring them for life to force them to swim under water before they are ready. Take it slow and patient and they'll take the plunge eventually!