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How to Prepare Your Child for Their First Swim Lesson

At Houston Swim Club, we understand that as a parent sending your child into their first swim class can be somewhat stressful, so here are some tips that can help make things a little easier for you and your child.

Practice at home before you come!


Use your bathtub or local pool to introduce your child to the water. This way our pool won’t feel like a completely foreign environment the first time they come to class. A key part of swim lessons is getting children comfortable with having their face, back of the head, and ears in the water. These skills play a crucial role in their ability to stay on the top of the water for a couple of reasons:

  • Having the head in the right position is one of the biggest factors in a swimmer’s ability to balance on the surface.
  • Comfort in the water is one of the most important elements to being able to swim properly. If a new swimmer is uncomfortable, this leads to tension in the muscles, which disrupts that swimmer’s ability to stay afloat.

learning to float is a water safety skill

There are four main roadblocks we experience when introducing a new student to putting their head in the water: their mouth, nose, eyes and ears.

The mouth and nose are the easiest to address with one of the foundational skills of swimming: bubbles! This may seem like a really small and insignificant skill, but blowing bubbles is vital to a child’s breath control development. Blowing bubbles serves two main purposes:

  • Keeping the water out of the mouth and nose.
  • Relieving pressure caused by the buildup of carbon dioxide inside the lungs. 

You can practice bubbles by having your child blow into the water or if you want to have a little fun with it, have them make noises or blow through a straw.

While bubbles are the more important skill overall for swimming success, the opposite is also important - the ability to take water into the mouth without swallowing it. This is also easy to practice at home by having them take water into their mouth from a cup or the bath and spit it out instead of swallowing it. In a moment of panic (which we hope to avoid entirely), the natural reaction for any new swimmer is to inhale. We want them to develop a habit of immediately spitting out any water rather than swallowing it.

Now for the eyes and ears…

These two areas are typically more difficult if your child hasn’t experienced putting their head under water yet. You should anticipate some resistance to this new skill they are learning. Try to make it as fun as possible! Do your best not to allow them to dwell on the fact that they are uncomfortable. Make it into a game or challenge and show them that it’s a quick and painless task by demonstrating it yourself.

That pretty much wraps up the physical portion of the preparation other than having your 3-year-old do hundreds of push-ups and sit ups every morning to get them in peak physical condition. Ha! Just kidding!

Give them exciting explanations!

grandma-love-swimmingIt is very helpful to give your child clear, simple explanations about what’s going to happen. For example: “The water is going to go into your ears and eyes, but that’s okay. It will fall right back out when you sit up and then it’s over! Super easy!”

As with anything in life, mental preparation is a key part of getting your child ready for their first swim experience. It means intentionally setting your child’s expectations for them in the most positive way you can! Do your best to get them excited about swimming in general. Tell them that swimming is a fun activity that you want them to experience. Show them other kids playing with friends at the pool or waterpark. Explain why you have enrolled them in swim lessons – comfort in the water, safety skills, stroke development, etc. The more eager your child is to swim, the easier it will be to get them to willingly come into swim lessons.

Teach them about the teacher!

So now your child is excited about swimming, but what about this strange person you are sending them to for the lesson (the instructor)? We’ve seen it many times - the child is ready and excited to come to swim lessons, then they turn the corner toward the pool, and they realize “uh oh… I don’t know that person.” Then boom! They turn and start running full speed back to you, which is totally understandable…

They are on their own, in a new environment, and are just looking for the safety and comfort of a familiar face. The good news is, this situation is also extremely avoidable! Before you arrive for their first lesson, talk to your child a few times about their instructor. Teach them that the instructor is there to take care of them and to help them stay safe and have fun in the water!

One of the key elements in our beginner levels is developing trust between the instructor and student. Lack of trust makes it difficult for our instructors to make progress with your child. We are asking them to do things they are afraid of doing, such as going under water for the first time and floating on their back. Trust is gained much more quickly if your child comes into class with the understanding that YOU trust the instructor first!

Expect a little separation anxiety!

swim-lessons-beforeThe last (and biggest) hurdle for getting your child (especially the younger ones) into swim lessons is when it actually comes time for them to leave your side and get in the water. The majority of the time when one of our little Guppies is crying it is due to them wanting mom or dad. We use the term ‘separation anxiety’, which simply means they get nervous when they are away from their parents. If this is one of your child’s first activities they’ve ever done where you are not around, you can almost always count on this happening. The good news is that we have ways to combat this situation as well!

Leading up to swim lessons, and especially when you arrive at our facility, encourage your child to be independent! Let them walk around and check things out. Show them the parent observation room and let them go play in the play area by themselves. This teaches them that our facility is a safe place for them to be. It helps to lessen their anxiety and makes it less stressful when it is their turn to go into class. If you are planning on introducing them to the instructor on their first day, then have them walk in as opposed to carrying them in. These little things can end up making a big difference for that first class!

We got this!

We know that all of this can seem like a lot, but fear not! We are here and we have your backs! You can take comfort in the fact that our instructors and lifeguards have been trained for this moment and know exactly what to do. Trust us, we’ve dealt with all types of children and situations and are ready to help your child, too. So, sit back and relax, because you and your child are in good hands!


This is what we do, and we love your kids (even when they may not love us at first). We are a team – parents, teachers, lifeguards, office staff, and most importantly your future swimmers. We will work together to make this the best possible experience for your child.

Hope to see you in the pool soon!


icon-charlie3Written by Charlie Guthrie, Pool Manager, Houston Swim Club Sharpstown. Originally published July 2019.

Jun 4, 2023
"Parent Tips" 

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