Private lessons for a fearful swimmer

My son is 6 years old. He's always been very averse to water, even as a baby. He refuses to put his head underwater. We have done group swim lessons on and off since he was three years old, at the Oakland Y (not a great experience, one sub dunked him under the water), and then at Mills. At Mills, after two years, he would start blowing bubbles and put his face in a few times, but still refused to dunk his head all the way under. 

At this point, it's obvious we need to switch to private lessons. I'm looking for recommendations for a great instructor/ place. We live in Oakland but I'm willing to travel for someone great. I found Woody's Private Lessons on yelp, and we are on the waitlist, but it is very long. I'm hoping someone out there has another idea for me!

Also, if you have advice/ encouragement / stories of what helped your kid overcome their fear of water, I'd love to hear it. 

Thank you!!

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Sherman Swim in Lafayette is great.  My 2 kids learned there.  They have a website which you can google.

Patti's Swim School in Castro Valley is a wonderful program and they helped my timid son overcome his fear of the water.

My son was not at all interested in learning to swim until he was 10.  At that age, group lessons were not going to work for him, so he did private lessons at Aquatech Swim in Alameda.  He is now 21 and has never become a water loving person, but he did learn to swim enough to be safe in the water and to be able to enjoy it with his friends.  His water-friendly younger sister also did private lessons there and enjoyed them.  The lessons weren’t cheap, but my son learned pretty quickly, so we didn’t end up doing them that long.  The other advantage to Aquatech for us is that it is an indoor facility, so we could go during the winter months.

Check out Ohana Aquatics in the Oakland hills off Redwood Road. My child is in group lessons there but I believe they also do private lessons. I’ve really liked my daughter’s teacher. She was extremely fearful of the water and had made amazing progress in about nine months even in group lessons. 

Hi! My son was a fearful swimmer as well. He did lessons at Tim Oliver swimming in Oakland which I believe is now called Ohana: Hang in there! It took him a long time to feel comfortable, but now he's 10 and swims like a champ. 


we had a son who was afraid.  

2 general ideas. 

We found places that teach kids with special needs or autism are also good for kids with fear in general. 

What worked best is a private instructor who since retired .  He took a different approach.  First he taught buoyancy.  He showed my son a water bottle with oxygen. How with air it is buoyant.   Then said that is how lungs work.  This was a breakthrough.  So my son would stay in the shallow end saying “I’m practicing my buoyancy”. For him, knowing there was a science to it and he could control it and practice it really helped.  Then once he got comfortable with that he could move on to lessons. 

I have found with fear sometimes you have to take a step backwards and unpack it.  And a good teacher is helpful too.   Good luck. 

My now 10 year old daughter took a few years to warm up to feeling comfortable in the water and from the age of 5-7 was also extremely averse to dunking her head under the surface and didn't want to learn how to swim. After a couple of group lessons when she was 6 or 7 we switched to private lessons (at the Albany Aquatic Center) to get one-on-one time. Best decision ever. It took several sessions over two years but her confidence level rose after each session and simply the fact that the instructors took time to figure out what the best learning method was for her was worth every penny. She can now do the front crawl for about half the length of the pool, backstroke for the entire length, dive for rings, and jump in from the edge of the pool. These private lessons also provide the opportunity to retain fun during lessons which is very important in order for the kid to stay motivated. And most importantly, in my opinion, is following your son's lead in terms of comfort level. While we stressed to our daughter that swimming is a life skill, we simply told her that not drowning is the whole goal of taking these lessons and that she can take all the time she needs. We also enticed her with the potential of having more fun during summer camps, birthday parties and hotel stays that involve swimming. So while it might take some time, with patience he's very likely to enjoy being in the water more and more. Good luck!

I have been very very happy with Sherman Swim School in Lafayette. Katie, in particular, is excellent (she teaches my 2.5yo). I would give them a call, and ask if they have instructors available with experience with your son’s needs. Hopefully they will be able to help. Good luck, and hang in there! 

My son was terrified of getting his face wet, let alone putting his head underwater. We had amazing results doing private lessons at Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante. He learned to swim the first summer of lessons, and he is now (after a few summers of swimming lessons there) a great swimmer.


We also tried group lessons with my son (he's 6 now) and he didn't respond well to them. Last year we tried private lessons through the Emeryville Aquatics Center and he learned to swim very quickly. The instructors were all pretty young - late teens/early 20's - and very good with the kids. We especially took to Jackie and did 12 lessons with her. It's very affordable - I think we paid about $22 per lesson for 30 minutes. There are other instructors teaching one on one in the pool at the same time. It is an outdoor pool.

Good luck!

My daughter didn't really learn until she was 8. Some kids just take longer. We never went as far as private lessons, but the classes at Tim Oliver in Oakland hills were small and she was sometimes by herself, esp during the winter months. (I think they have privates as well ) I appreciated the small private yard nextdoor where I could enjoy a little me time. Especially with an older kid, it's nice if you don't have to sit poolside the whole time. It was a bit of a drive for us from berkekey, but I enjoyed half an hour outside in a patklike setting by myself, and the instructors were very good.

Agree, some kids just aren't ready at 6. I'd wait this year out. Try a short session in 2020, see how it goes. I have an 8 year old who still can't really swim, have wasted a lot of money on her lessons over the years. My 10 year old finally can swim, and lessons for him really kicked in when he was around 8. So I have hope for our late bloomers...

When my son was three, I did a lot of research to find a swim program I thought would work for my too-frequently-wary-of-trying-new-things son. Thinking back to my own childhood, I made a mental list of all the things I hated about swim lessons: cold pools, not always so friendly instructors, one or two weeks sessions where I was expected to complete certain goals. I enrolled my son at a school where the water is 92 degrees farenheit, the classes were year round so that he learned at his own pace and comfort level, and the instructors were not under pressure to have the kids learn within a certain time frame, hence less pressure on the child. I enrolled my son in a class but there were never more than 5 or six in the class, and I think at a young age having other kids around might make it more interesting and fun for the child. Happy Fish Swim School is way down in Fremont (they have another school in Livermore), which is probably too far for you to want to drive, but I would keep in mind the things to look for in a swim school. Blowing bubbles was a big deal back then, now my 10-year-old son still swims at Happy Fish but just for fun and exercise. Good Luck!

As the mom of a kid who loves to swim and swims pretty well, I would like to add the following to this topic: Due mainly to time and money concerns, I signed up my daughter for just one 6 or 8-week group swimming lesson session per year for ages 3-10 years old. The rest of the time we would go to (cheap) unstructured family swim hours almost every week and just play around together, or, when she got older, with other kids. I think this helped her love the water and to see it as fun, rather than being just like water-school. She really progressed on her own from year to year, just by playing in the water. Good luck.

Are you sure he is afraid of the water? Maybe he isn't comfortable with the pool environment or maybe he doesn't trust the teacher. I would stop pushing and just let him go at his own pace. Maybe if you played games with him in the water it would help.