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How to Decode Your Baby's Signals During Swim Class

Posted in Swim Tips

If you’re about to start swimming lessons for babies, you might be excited but have some questions about what the actual class will be like. In fact, there’s often as much of a period of adjustment for parents who are helping their baby swim as there is for the infants! 

Most parents who are experienced taking their little one to baby swimming classes have come to understand one truth: baby swim lessons will go a lot more smoothly if you learn to decode your baby’s signals and respond accordingly. Here are three common cues you may get from your baby, and how to handle each. 

1. Crying

It can be incredibly frustrating to be in swim class, following the instructor’s lead and doing “Motor Boat, Motor Boat” with your baby, just to have them erupt in tears. If your infant is crying in swim class, you most likely want to find a way to stop it - fast. But it can be counterproductive to say things like “don’t cry” as babies don’t really understand that anyway, and an unintentionally harsh tone may just make things worse. 

We’ve found the best bet is usually to take a moment to soothe your child. If there’s space, you can step away from the main class while still staying in the pool, and try patting your baby’s back, shushing in a comforting manner or even singing/talking to your baby until they’re calm. If the crying still doesn’t stop, it’s perfectly okay to remove yourself and your child from the pool and dry off a little. Then you can try whichever comforting measures tend to work for your little one, as well as check their diaper, nurse, or give them a bottle. 

If you’re able to get your baby reasonably calm, it’s ideal to head back to the pool. You want your infant’s last memory of swim class to be a positive one, if at all possible, and not reinforce that crying gets them out of class. But, at the same time, forcing a crying baby to stay in class will only escalate the problem and make them associate swimming with negative feelings. Always remember: calm and comfort, then return to class. 

2. Excessive Clinginess 

Maybe your infant is usually ok to be apart from you to go in a pool noodle for a swimming activity or even to get passed to the teacher to demonstrate a new skill. But for some reason, you’re in class and your baby refuses to leave your side. When this happens, first think about what might be going in your little one’s mind. 

Are they tired? Hungry? Maybe starting to feel a little sick? In the moment, try to find a way to do what the instructor is asking while still being attuned to your baby’s needs. 

For example, you may be able to adapt a skill the instructor is working on to give your child practice while not forcing them out of their comfort zone. If the class is working on “elevators” and then swimming up to grab the edge of the pool, you could help your baby participate while keeping one hand on their back the entire time so they feel the comfort of knowing you’re there. If you’re not sure how to adapt a certain activity, ask the instructor for help. Most likely, this clinginess is only temporary and your little one will be back to normal at the next lesson. 

3. Tantrums

The dreaded T-word! If you’ve ever seen a tantrum start brewing while in a public setting, like baby swimming classes, you know how uncomfortable and even embarrassing it can feel. All you want is for your child to go with the flow of class and not cause a scene, and yet there you are watching their face turn red and their fists start clenching. You know it’s only a matter of time until the yelling begins. 

If this starts to happen in class, try stepping aside from the rest of the group to have a little privacy with your child. If your baby isn’t verbal yet, which most aren’t, you’ll need to try to figure out what’s making them mad. Was there a hard skill you just had them do? Are they upset (or scared) you dunked their head underwater? With verbal little ones, they’ll usually try to tell you what set them off. Either way, it’s important to provide support. 

Even if you’re feeling angry that your baby is disrupting class and frustrated that you don’t know why, it’s best that you try to remain calm. Hold your infant close and try to comfort them. If necessary, get out of the pool and dry them off in a quiet corner of the locker room so you can work on calming them down away from an audience. Sometimes, you just have to ride out the tantrum. But oftentimes, you can prevent - or at least calm - a tantrum by staying calm yourself and being supportive, rather than dismissive. 


It’s not always easy going through the waves of emotions an infant can feel during swim class, but it’s important to take care of your baby’s needs first and then re-enter the class, if possible. If you have any more questions, please contact us.