Teaching your toddler to swim – what happens when they’re scaredy cats?

Baby swimming lessons

I was delighted to be approached by Aura Leisure Centre recently to take part in their Swim Tots classes. I do get approached from time to time to try things and write about them here, but they usually involve products that include gambling of some sort, or lately, mostly, popcorn. Swimming was right up our street, for a number of reasons.

One, it’s a new learning experience for August and it takes her away from the TV for a few hours and gives us something fun to do. Two, I thought, it’ll be a bit of exercise for flabby Mammy. Three, we’re setting out on a path to learn a proper skill, a lifelong ability that will stand to her for all future foreign holidays, sailing trips and fun with friends. Who doesn’t want to be able to swim?

I vaguely remember my first time swimming. It was on holidays somewhere and I went with my Dad to a municipal type pool. I was old enough to be left alone in the baby pool, furiously kicking my legs while clinging to the wall. I must have been at it for twenty minutes before my Dad came back and told me I could stop now. I was bloody exhausted.

There were plenty of lessons as a kid, but I never quite mastered the skill. I was always a bit afraid. I have a memory of when I was about seven, and my mother had left me to go and get dressed by myself. (Probably at my insistence). As I dried myself off and set about getting dressed I made the shocking discovery that my knick knicks had gone missing. They weren’t in the basket (no lockers in those days), they weren’t in my bag, they weren’t on the floor.

How did I overcome this problem? Well I stood there in my towel and cried of course. As all the others got changed and ready to head back out to the bus, I stood, dripping, poking my clothes in search of the elusive underwear. My mother eventually came in to see what was keeping me and was horrified to find me nowhere near dressed and the bus ready to go. She discovered them in my trousers – an obvious place to look you would think – and got me sorted as quickly as she could. There was no way I could have gotten dressed without knicks knicks you see. It was like going to bed without pajamas. You just didn’t do it. I never broke the rules. But I never really learned to swim either.

Not until I was older, about 15 and sent for swimming lessons as part of our secondary school curriculum. For a full year, once a week, we piled off to the pool and had our lessons. It turned out that I was able to swim all along, but I didn’t have the confidence to go out of my depth. Slowly, with encouragement during these lessons, I found that I could thread a bit of water and doggy paddle my way out of the deep end. It’s no easy feat forcing 180 hormonal school girls into togs each week and telling them to get their hair wet, so kudos to the school for making us do it. I would not be able to swim today, if not for it.

So, the toddler, the lessons, how did we get on?

Well… week one, was what I think we could collectively call, a disaster. Here is our experience which in no way went to plan – but cemented in my mind why swimming from an early age, is vital.

  1. Arrive at the pool, where she spots it, squeals with delight and immediately cries when I close the cubicle door, so we can get changed. How dare I take the vision of the pool from her.
  2. Blow up her arm bands, make our way out to the baby pool and tentatively dip our toes in. She’s not having much of it and hangs around the edge. Note that all the other tots are dressed in professional all in one super swimmer suits and we’re in a ‘just going on our ‘olidays flamingo togs’. And armbands. No other kids have armbands. We stand out as newbies.
  3. Meet our swim teacher Conor, who is lovely and gently tells me there is no need for armbands. I take his word for it and fling them to the side of the pool. The child is still not having much of the water.
  4. We move to the larger baby pool where the water comes up to the tots’ chests. August. Freaks. Out.
  5. Monkey, she clings to me like a monkey, kicks me in the stomach a few times and refuses to let go.
  6. Watch all the other children who seem to swim like fish and have to move off to the side as we can’t take part in the class with August’s screaming.
  7. It’s taking all my power just to try and keep her in the water.
  8. Remember the water boarding incident. Realise this is all our fault.
  9. Do my best with her, but class is half way over and we haven’t been able to take part. August gets out of the pool and stands at the side, sees the noisy filter and absolutely freaks out again. Cannot believe she hates it this much – this wasn’t what I was expecting.
  10. I ask her does she want to jump in and she nods and as I put out my arms to help her she does a massive cannonball into the pool and laughs her head off. Standing, not ok. Giant running jumps into the pool with splashback – hilarious. This is our breakthrough.
  11. For the rest of the lesson she runs and jumps into the water with me catching her and eventually she gets the confidence to stand. I am so happy that we have taken even this little step.
  12. Class is now over and Conor reassures me that she will get the hang of it, it just takes time.
  13. In the showers afterwards and while getting dressed she cries non stop. Wonder if I can go through it all again next week.
  14. Arrive home to tell himself – it was a DISASTER.

I was half dreading week two, but half looking forward to it too. I had a feeling that things would be much better and I was dying to see her reaction. Turns out, it was the opposite of last week’s disaster!

  1. She spies the pool but doesn’t fuss as we get changed. She understands better now.
  2. Still hangs round the edge at first and has a few panicky moments as we wait in the baby pool.
  3. Starts going crazy as we make our way into the larger tots pool but Conor takes her hand and then carries her in – I hang back as she is having a different reaction to him than me.
  4. He puts her on the ground and it takes her a while to get her footing – she keeps slipping and falling as if being tossed by waves (drama queen!)
  5. Finally he gets her to stand by herself and he wades her through the pool. She’s SMILING!
  6. He gets me to take over again and tells me just to keep a hold of her hand while she gets her confidence and to keep pushing her feet onto the ground so she can feel it’s solid. He says not to let her fall over, that usually he encourages it, but with August, because she is so fearful, this would set her back.
  7. We actually take part in the class. All of it!
  8. I’m so proud of her, getting over her fear a little bit and watching her join in with the songs and splashing. She’ll still the least confident by far but she is one hundred times better than last week.
  9. The lessons are great and involve a number of exercises going back and forth in the pool practising kicking, splashing, putting their faces in the water and putting their arms out. It’s all done to rhymes and animal noises and she absolutely loves it.
  10. When the lesson is over we stay back a bit and do swirls in the water. I’m amazed when she lies out flat and lets me hold her horizontal in the water. This is so far from where we were last week I want to cry.

I hadn’t realised what a fear August had of the water. We have been having trouble at bath time here I haven’t been able to wash her hair for weeks. She loses her life if you pour so much as a drop of water on her, so I’m hoping with swimming, we might actually get to wash her hair properly once in a while.

Most of all I’m glad that she’ll get over her fear at such a young age that she’ll never know she even had a fear in the first place. She will learn to swim in no time I’m sure and even if it takes longer, at least she’ll have the experience of being in the water since before she can remember.

Back in the changing room this week, she was better but still started to kick up as we got changed. When she was mostly dressed I broke out the sweets and was able to get dressed myself.

The things we’ve learned since last week, honestly.

We’ve six more lessons to go, so I’ll let you know how we get on.

If you are interested in booking your own baby, tot or child for swimming lessons contact Aura through their website or by phone. They have ten centres throughout Ireland, including Drogheda (where we go).

Blub blub.



*This is not a sponsored post – however we have received the classes at no cost in exchange for an honest review

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2 Comments on Teaching your toddler to swim – what happens when they’re scaredy cats?

  1. Conor is amazing with the kids. Anneliese was very wary of “strangers” but he had her laughing lots. She has no fear of water at 16months. Brought her from 4-9months in Aura.

    • Ah that’s great to hear. Conor is awesome – just so kind and connects with the kids. Knew exactly what to do with her, whereas I was quite panicky. I never wanted to take August when she was young as I thought it wouldn’t work or was kindof afraid of germs and things, but now I’m seeing that if she went when she was younger, we wouldn’t be having issues now! But we’ll get there – she’s improving so much already. Can’t wait to see her at the end of the term!

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