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Frightened, Screaming Children in Swimming Class Part 2

The Do's for Frightened, Screaming Children in Swimming Class

Last time we discussed the don't s of dealing with Frightened, Screaming Children in Swimming Class part 1:
Don't Panic
Don't try and do your lesson
Don't try to do anything

This time I would like to talk about the do's:
Do Talk
Do distract I used to use toys.
Do keep parents near by
Do listen to parents
Do let parents interact (mostly)

Image of child and an adult looking at each other in the pool. The child is crying and the adult is holding their hands and looking on distressed: This article is about Frightened Screaming Children
Frightened Screaming Children

Do Talk

Talking is the second most calming thing that a person can do.

The most calming thing you can do is take a deep breath (this is a fact not conjecture), which you should do often.

Talk about anything that you think may be relevant to the child and ask lot of questions unless that is upsetting the child but although you must wait for an answer and even expect an answer, you must neither demand an answer nor be bother if the child chooses not to answer your questions

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

Do distract: I used to use toys

My favorite toy to use is red the bear. My next most favorite is my underwater viewer, but I have to make sure that it doesn't make things worse as some times even that act of be able to look is more frightening to some children than not knowing, so don't push it.

All my toys have names some of which the children themselves have named and I introduce all my toys to the children by name and offer each toy to them one at a time: if they reject them all I've lost nothing but if they get attached to one I have won a friend. Don't be upset if the child wants to take their favorite toy home because if they bring it back they may use it for comfort and if they don't you get to buy a new one (friend) to name.

I do encourage the children to leave the toys (new friend) behind but I don't get upset if they really, really want to take their new friend home. I have had children grow very attached to certain toys so I tell them that if they leave it behind it/he/she will be there waiting for them next time. Of course that means keeping a certain level of toy management so that the toy is their next time for that child.

I did have one child swimming student who would not swim without "red" for a long while; he made her feel safe.

I often tell the child that it is their job to make the toy feel safe and that often works really well. Toys are real people to children and I for one have no problem accepting that.

Do keep parents near by

Now I have to qualify this a bit: there are times when I have asked the parent to leave but only if I have tried everything else to get the child to focus me and not the parent; if the parent thinks it is a good idea, the parent may even suggest it and only for about 10 minutes tops to see if there is some settling of the child, if there is no gain in that time or it gets worse don't be afraid to surrender. You don't have to win every situation.

With that proviso you should always keep the parents close by. It is a great help to be able to say "it's Ok mummy/daddy (or whoever) is right there they are not going anywhere". It makes a child feel safe and that is a big, big factor in helping settle a child.

Do listen to parents

There is no guarantee that what they will have to say is helpful but if you don't listen you are never going to know. Too many swim teachers fail to listen to their students parents and the pay the price. Remember that parents spend a lot more time with their child than you do there is a good chance that they know more about what will help calm the unsettled beginner swimmer than you do. Very occasionally you will get a parent that really doesn't have a clue but truly you will never know this either if you don't ask or listen to them in the first place.

Then of course there is the difficult parent but if you expect difficulty you will get it and you will be the cause. Your expectation may turn out to be why the child is upset in the first place.

Do let parents interact (mostly)

I have no problem allowing parents to get into the water with the swim student and I if that is what is necessary go calm the situation. I can't for the life of me work out what the obsession is that some parents and swimming schools have with excluding parents. It is important that you wean the parent out of the water as soon as you can but there should be no problem with it for short time if it helps.

If however a parent is fretful, always encouraging your upset new swim student to leave the water and always contradicting what you say then such parents is Not of the mostly group and your only hope is get them to leave the area.

Otherwise let the parents help you!

Next time I would like to talk about the miscellaneous aspects of Frightened, Screaming Children in Swimming Class :
Bribery works
Expect that they will do what you say
Do what you say and say what you will do



  1. Interesting take, Richard. We use a method called a similar method called "Distress and Distract." While the child is doing something potentially distressing (getting face wet, going underwater, etc) we play some sort of game that distracts them from the fear they may have.

  2. Yep That's an excellent method. I think you would agree however that it is not always that simple and it doesn't always work