Magical swim instructor for fearful swimmers?

My kiddos are 5 & 7 and both have a terrible fear of dunking their heads under water. We've tried a few swim classes over the years but they both get really worked up about the part of swimming where they need to get under the water (i believe my youngest learned this behavior/fear from her older brother). I love swimming as does their father, but unfortunately we didnt expose them to swimming enough when they were babies so now we have fearful swimmers. On the bright side, they both love being in pools and in the ocean just as long as they have a floatie or an adult to swim with. 

I'd love some fresh recommendations for swim instructors that can work some serious magic with sensitive kids like these. Instructors that are truly invested in the individual and will move at their pace. I realize we may have to do some private sessions for a while to get them over their fears before they go back to group classes. We've tried so many instructors and most of them just bulldoze over my kids' sensitivities and more or less force them to do exercises rather than figure out how to get them comfortable and enjoying the water.

Thanks for your help!

-Mermaid mama 

Parent Replies

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It worked for my daughter to practice in the bathtub, and when she got good at that, at recreational swim with me, then try lessons. It is good that they like pools, that will help a lot. Go to the El Cerrito pool for recreational swim, because floaties are not allowed, so they won't have that option to fall back on.

We had a great experience with Sherman Swim School in Lafayette. They only do private lessons, but they're only 15-20 min (2x/week) so they're reasonably priced, for private lessons. And to be honest, that's about all a little kid can handle as far as attention span, etc. It's good bang for your buck. My son was also fearful about putting his head underwater and they were GREAT about taking things at his pace and making it fun. He LOVED his teacher (Tiffany) but there were other great teachers there too. We're headed back this Summer for more lessons. We live in Oakland and elect to go through the tunnel to Lafayette for the warmer weather and an outdoor (but tented/shady) pool. The distance is the same, time-wise, to something like Aquatech in Alameda anyway. Best of luck!

Have you heard of Debbie's swim school? They teach private lessons for swimmers with aquaphobia. My son had a very bad experience with group swimming after he turned 3 since I wasn't allowed in the pool with him anymore and he refuse the pool for a year. We found Debbie's swim school and has been loving them. They do work at your child's pace and understand that it takes time. They are kind of further in Benicia and Fairfield, but it's worth it for us. You can check them out here

AquaTech!  They have a method that is followed by all instructors, so it is very consistent regardless of which instructor you get.  They are very patient, friendly and have somehow engaged all 3 of my kids (7yo, 5yo, 3yo) to put their heads in.  Once we switched from Albany Aquatic Center (where they would leave swim lessons with their top half dry, no joke), I was shocked to look over during swim lessons and see my, at the time 6yo & 4yo dunking their heads under water while they waited for their turn with the instructor.  These are kids who would not even put their ears in.  Added bonus is they have a great cancellation policy (day-of before 9am) and allow for make-up classes.  Nothing worse than paying for classes that your kids miss!  People have said they have probs online with waitlists -- I just called in and had no problem getting a day/time for all 3 kids.  We live in Bkly and the drive over after school is very easy.

Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante.  We live in Berkeley and it's a trek for a 30 minute lesson, but we found it worthwhile.  Depending on the route, we can normally make it in about 20 minutes.  Both my children were extremely fearful of the water.  My husband and I also love being in the water, and were kicking ourselves for not being more consistent about exposing them to it at an early age.  They loved being the long as their faces/eyes didn't get wet!  Even baths required making sure their eyes were dry.  One of my children is very cautious, and hesitant to try anything new or that be perceives as high-risk (usually means something he doesn't know how to do).  Numerous other parents suggested Canyon Swim School and initially, I was a bit doubtful because Canyon suggested group lessons before discussing the possibility or private lessons.  To my amazement, group lessons were great. They have mostly high school kids teaching lessons, which I think the kids enjoyed more than working with an adult.  I was surprised that the group aspect was actually fun and relaxing for them than one-on-one.  They don't pressure the kids and start with things like, games and blowing bubbles in the water.  30 minutes is actually the perfect amount of time - just enough time to work on a few skills in a fun way but not long enough that they start to get bored or drag their feet about going to lessons.  A bonus is the heated pool.  No more complaining about being too cold in the pool!  I can't say that my kids have turned into water loving fishes but they are definitely progressing (very slowly).  And for me, that's fine.  As long as they are progressing and having a positive experience with learning to swim, I'm happy.  We spent all last summer repeatedly taking Beginner 1.  This summer is all about Beginner 2. Some kids breeze through the levels, mine repeat them at least 3 times.  And it's fine, no one at the school blinks an eye or makes my child feel like a failure.  While there are a lot of teachers at Canyon, their methods are fairly consistent.  We have yet to repeat an instructor and from watching lessons, the instructors are all well trained and consciously try to keep the experience positive for the child.  The downsides are that Canyon only offers lessons during the summertime and they fill up quickly.  The office tries to schedule sibling classes at the same time or back-to-back if possible, which I appreciate.  The parking can be a headache, and I've learned that timing is key because there are consistent waves of cars leaving/arriving to park as lessons are finished.  You can always find parking along San Pablo Dam road, but it's a farther and sometimes a bit hair-raising walk along the road because cars zip by quickly.  I'd suggest purchasing a well fitting pair of googles for them after lessons have started, this helped our kids get over putting their heads under water.  Good luck!