I have a beautiful, wonderful daughter, and she's always been sweet and funny and chatty and lovely to spend time with...but there can be times when she's digging in her heels and saying no, and it's so easy to become disillusioned or frustrated. This was never more true than when she was a toddler.
Toddlers say "no" in the pool just like they do in all of the other areas of their lives, the key is how we interpret the reaction. One strategy I used was to add a "because..." after her no in my head in order to get on her wavelength and try and work out what to do next.
"No...because I'm in a new environment and feeling overwhelmed."
"No...because I'm feeling under the weather."
"No...because I haven't tried that activity before and I don't know if I'll like it."
"No...because I feel a need to assert myself in some way."
"No...because I know that will get a big reaction from mum and dad."
"No...because I've said "no" so many times now, it's become an automatic response!"
If a child knows a huge discussion and debate will ensue when they refuse to do something, they'll do it all the more. If they know you'll get frustrated by their response, they might well refuse just to sit back and watch the sparks fly. They might be saying no because they need to connect with you (and no longer mind whether that connection is a positive or negative one). In my classes, all I ask parents to do is accept the refusal calmly and then relax to watch the other children in the class.
If we push or force a child to do something we create a big deal where there isn't one - it is about being bright, breezy and relaxed while respecting the toddler's choice. Their response is in the moment - they could change their mind a few seconds later or a few weeks later - and when that happens we can be equally bright and breezy and accept the new decision.
Parents who aren't completely confident in the water themselves might also need to consider their own fears if facing a "no" when a new activity is introduced. Toddlers and babies don't come to the pool with preconceptions about the water, so a refusal rarely means "No...because I'm worried I'll drown," or "No...because I'm scared of the water." It is easy to project our own worries onto a child, which leads us to believe that a fleeting refusal goes deeper than it really does. It's always worth aiming to project confidence instead, because your own wobbles can easily give that "no" more weight than it needs and actually create problems for the future.
Small, positive, progressive steps is your goal, so we don't want to drag a child along more quickly than they're ready to go, but we equally don't want to take them on their every word and hold them back. We can respect their choices without adding fuel to the fire, and we just need to remember that toddlers live in the moment, and a choice made in that moment doesn't need to have a domino effect on the rest of their swimming career.