Meltdowns and tantrums! What to do when your baby hates swim lessons

We can all agree that learning to swim is a pretty important skill for our children to have – especially in Australia. But what do you do when your child refuses to take part in swimming lessons?

A Babyology mum posted this exact question to our Facebook page and the support and advice she received in response was incredible.

The weekly swimming lesson ordeal

US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps recently shared his seven-month-old son Boomer’s introduction to the pool to show it is never too early to build our little ones’ confidence in the water.

While Boomer let out a grizzle and had a tight grip on his dad at first, by the end of the lesson he peacefully snoozed and enjoyed the dip.

Unfortunately, this is not the norm for all parents.

A worried mum anonymously explained to the Babyology community the ordeal she faces every time she attempts to take her 16-month-old daughter for a swimming lesson.

“My 16-month-old daughter hates her swimming lessons so much, I don’t know what to do,” she wrote.

“We can’t even get her in the water after five weeks of weekly attendance – she screams, cries and tries to escape the pool area.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s me or her dad getting in with her, she just won’t have it.

“Offers of rewards haven’t helped at all. It is so upsetting, I just can’t put her through it anymore.

“Our instructor said she’s so distraught that we should wait until next year and try again so we don’t put her off the water forever.

“But she’s fine in the bath and shower at home, and loves to splash in the shallows at the beach?! Has anyone been through similar, and did anything help?”

Here is her full post.

Many parents facing the same struggle in the water

The Babyology community were quick to respond, with many parents explaining they were facing the same battle with their own children.

One mum says her six-year-old stepson is just as reluctant.

“We don’t know what to do. He will happily stand in a pool just above his waist but won’t dunk down. Even being held by an adult in a deep pool, he screams and clings like a baby,” she writes.

Another mother shared that she found hitting pause on swimming lessons for a time worked for her little boy.

“My son did this when we tried lessons. He flat out refused to get in. So upset. Just wasn’t ready.

“We decided not to push and just have fun at the pool. We took him swimming to play and enjoy and get familiar with the water.

“At four-years-old we tried again and he was great! [He] is now in the same level lessons as the majority of kids in his year and loves swimming.

“Don’t stress about it. Each kid is different.”

While another mum says that perseverance was the key for her little girl.


“Both my kids screamed for months – my two-year-old pretty much screamed for a year straight, we changed swimming teachers and she is now happy, confident and runs and jumps into her teacher’s arms,” she writes.

“Personally, I think you should persevere with it.”

But what do the experts say?

Babyology spoke to swim teacher Jacquie Rodney from Aynsleys Aquatics Swim School in Richmond NSW who advises parents not to put off swim lessons, no matter how painful it becomes.

“I would definitely recommend this mum persevere,” Jacquie says.

“I would find a swim school where her daughter feels most comfortable and where her parents feel most supported.

“I wouldn’t force anything on her but I would persevere because children come around eventually – you don’t want to frighten her but you do want to persevere and be encouraging.”

Jacquie shares these tips for parents struggling to get their kids to embrace swimming lessons:

1. Be positive

Always talk positively about swimming and water, never have any negative conversations.

“Just try and build a positive rapport with swimming,” Jacquie says.

“It can be hard and it is horrible to see your child kick and scream and not enjoy it, but eventually they definitely come around.

“People may look but that’s okay. It’s just like children who don’t want to eat their vegetables, children are their own little person from the day they are born and they have their own little personalities and they are always going to resist and test things.”

Jacquie says it may take time but eventually children come around.


2. Find a supportive school

Six month old baby girl at her first swimming lesson. Smiling and looking at the viewer, also holding an orange floating toy.

Jacquie says a supportive swim school will listen to parents’ concerns and past experiences and can offer advice, support and understanding.

“Swim schools can give you information on activities you can do at home so they can associate any sort of water orientation or familiarisation at swimming,” Jacquie says.

“For example, if they have a little toy like a dolly or a ducky or a little boat or something that can go in the water, then they can really look forward to taking that swimming each week.”

Jacquie says swim schools should never turn people away, they should always encourage students and help empower parents.

3. Remember to make it fun

Like anything, if it isn’t fun, children won’t want to do it.

“Any time in the water is good, the more practice, the more playing, the more fun, the better,” Jacquie says.

4. Don’t give up

Jacquie says giving up can send the wrong message to a child.

“The moment you relent, children learn they can get out of it,” she says.

5. Keep perspective and persist

Just as you would persist to get a child into a car seat, Jacquie says parents need to persist with encouraging their child to learn to swim.

“It is a lifesaving skill they are learning and it is really important to persevere,” Jacquie says.

“You don’t need to do anything damaging, you are not hurting the child, you just want to be encouraging and keep persisting with it, find something she finds enjoyable in the water.”

Subscribe to Babyology

Our email newsletters keep you up to date with what’s happening on Babyology.

We also have special newsletter-only offers and competitions that are exclusive to Babyology subscribers.

Sign up below:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Send this to a friend