The Swimming Threenager

People talk about the ‘terrible twos’ some kids hit this stage hard as their brain development is moving so fast that their body, mind and ability to communicate all of these new feelings has trouble keeping up.  If you are dreading the terrible twos we have a story for you.

You have not seen anything yet until you have met a threenager. Threenagers are aware of themselves, they now understand they are a complete separate person to their parents and are starting to gain a sense of self.  With this sense of self comes a need to push the limits and make their own rules and see how many times they can be the ruler of all worlds even if some of the rules mean that they miss out on the things they actually love to do.


As with any stage, some children will hit it hard and others not so much. So what does this stage mean for your child’s learn to swim? As with any developmental leap a couple of steps back before we move forward again is always the key, especially at this stage. Trying to battle with a three year old once they have decided to dig their heels in rarely ends in a win before the conclusion of their 30 minute swim lesson.

Knowing why your child is digging their heels in will help the situation and allows you and your little one to work through the problem together. Ask yourself:

  1. Are they afraid of a new situation? (children can sometimes show that they are afraid by being defiant or stubborn)
  2. Have they had a bad start to the class? (this could include falling over outside, not having enough sleep or a previous power struggle during the day)
  3. Is there a lot of change going on in their life at the moment? (new house, new sibling, new school/care facility)


Understanding that your child around the age of three will be moving from a parent/guardian assisted class into an independent class is a huge change, especially if they have spent the last 3 years in a parent/guardian assisted class. This assisted class is all they have known and now you are expecting them to go into the water without you. Most of the time, the change of class will also mean a change of instructor and their new instructor will be a stranger for a few lessons before they warm up. 


Aquatots has come up with few tips to help parents with these wonderful little humans that will one day rule the world. Unlike two year olds, these three year olds are smart. They are not so easily distracted by toys and things however, they still love to play and have fun. Find an instructor that is fun, relaxed and animated and you will find your child cannot help wanting to participate. If they do decide to assert their authority you can:


  1. Get down on their level, try to avoid standing when talking or telling them what you want them to do, look them in the eyes when they are trying to explain or communicate. If you can find out what the problem is sometimes its an easy fix (may need to go to the toilet, wants the red cap not the blue cap, dinosaur toys are not out today etc) 
  2. Use your highly superior emotional intelligence and try not to get flustered or short (they can smell your fear)
  3. Be prepared, especially if your child has just moved up be ready to get in with them even if it is just standing in the water for moral support
  4. Be present and positive, your child will be reading you (they are experts in this field) if you are relaxed, calm and encouraging they will take their cues from you
  5. Try to turn up to class with plenty of time to be organized so that your child does not feel rushed or pushed into an uncomfortable situation
  6. Try not to give in. If they are having an off day and are really pushing the boundaries it is important that you sit and watch the class with them. The supervisor can provide a pool side chair for you and your child can sit on the edge of the pool close to the class. Usually this method will have them in as they get bored and want to participate or play
  7. Find an instructor they will gel with. Sometimes this may make all the difference :-)

The most important thing to remember is they are only little. Your mini dictator is just trying to learn their place in the world. Their brains are developing at a rapid rate and sometimes all of this stimulation and input becomes overwhelming. Work with them and help guide them through this wonderful stage which too, shall pass.

If you have any questions in regards to your threenager and their swimming please feel free to contact our experts