I do get a number of parents who come to me when their babies and toddlers have had bad experiences elsewhere. It sucks to know that at such a young age a little person has been put off swimming, but we can work together to change their perspective. Here are some thoughts on how:
1. Come along early
The last thing you want is for your baby and toddler to feel your stressed vibes if you're arriving in a rush. Take your time getting ready, and allow plenty of time to get to the pool and get changed. If they can come calmly onto poolside with you it will make a huge difference to their mindset.
2. Let them relearn their perspective on the teacher
If a baby has been submerged beneath the water by their swimming teacher, they'll automatically associate the stranger wearing a T shirt in the water as a threat. If they're used to their swimming teacher pulling them away from you, they won't be a massive fan of me for a little while, and that's okay. Your child needs time to relearn the teacher's role in the water - they need to regain trust, and that takes time. I believe that a swimming lesson is a special time between the parent and baby, and I don't want to intrude on that, and most swimming teachers should be happy to give you that space. If we're doing little baby-led dives from me to you, I'll always ask a baby if they want to come to me - a baby who can't yet speak is very capable of letting me know whether he's ready using his body language. If a baby reaches out and smiles, I'll go ahead - if she buries her head in your chest and tenses up, we'll leave it for another week.
3. Remember, baby led can mean waiting...and waiting!
If we put a baby under the water, we can work at our own pace, and that can mean it looks like the child is making rapid progress. If we leave the decision to go under the water to them, it can take far longer, and it stops being a linear progression - some weeks they make a huge leap, then the next week they have sore teeth and just aren't feeling it. But the difference is, it's their choice - it's an organic thing. In being patient and letting them take their time you build trust in the water, and that trust is what will encourage them to love swimming in the long term. So if you've made the switch from adult-led to baby-led, be aware that it may lead to an apparent step backwards in terms of progression. What you're actually doing is building trust and creating a long term love of water.
4. Show them what a good time you're having
I always say that you're the baby's teacher - I'm there to direct the activities. If your baby sees you having a brilliant time in the water, feeling comfortable, going under and generally enjoying yourself, they'll have fun too.
5. Remember, 30 minutes can feel like a long time when you're small...
If they're struggling to get through a whole lesson, give your child breaks every now and then. A break could be a rest while they look at a toy or watch water coming from a watering can, or it could be a cuddle. Read their body language so you know when it's time to take time out.
The most important thing is that you take things at your child's pace so that they can start to enjoy the water - you shouldn't feel under any pressure to maintain progress. Relax and enjoy the time with your child.