Are you the proud parent of a reluctant swimmer? Owner Sonali Morris recaps her own family’s swim struggles! Read on and know that you’re not alone!


“Come on! Go down one more step. The water won’t even touch your knees!”

There I was, at the neighborhood pool again, pleading with my son. Our babysitter was next to me, coaxing and begging as well. When your child is stubborn, you need to pull in the big guns. However, the reluctant swimmer wasn’t having it.

“I’ll buy you a Tonka truck!” I tried.

“C’mon! I’ll buy you a HUGE ice cream cone,” my babysitter begged.

It was pure desperation. Surely the promise of a big rig or an even bigger bowl of dessert would entice my child to man up and take a step down.


This was the ongoing battle that ensued. The weekly duel at the pool. Mom v. Son. And, so far, I was losing. But, swimming was non-negotiable. It was a life skill. And, whether my child knew it or not, he was going to swim – or at least perfect the basics to save his life. And, ironically, I was going to die trying.

The days of “no” morphed into weeks until finally, I handed off my screaming toddler to a complete stranger and left. Well, I hid. I cowered behind a door that had a small 6”x6” porthole window. I watched my son scream as he was taken through skills. I watched him cry as he tried to figure out where I was. Those 30-minute lessons were agony for me, but essential for him. Even worse? My younger daughter was soaking it all in, waiting for her time to shriek or shine.

Little boy and girl posing for a picture

Fast-forward 10 years. My children are both competitive swimmers for the Solon Stars. My daughter loves swimming for the exercise while my son has taken to the competitive side. He swims 8x per week and gets twitchy if he misses a practice. To be honest, I think he’s happier in water than on land. Looking back, I can’t believe how far we’ve come. When families come to Goldfish for their reluctant swimmer’s first lesson, I share my story. It’s not so much for inspiration, but more for validation – and relief. Their struggle is a familiar sight. I want them to know they’re not alone and I want to share a few things I’ve learned to put them at ease:

  1. Breed familiarity. When you’re in the moment and your child is crying in swim lessons, it can be agony. It can also be embarrassing and feel endless. But, know that you’re not alone and this won’t last forever. For most children, a pool is daunting. Layer on any unfamiliarity with the instructor and it’s the perfect storm for tears. Know that our instructors train for these moments and we will get your child swimming! But, there is something families can do to help. Visit us before lessons. Meet your child’s instructor and prepare your child for what to expect in lessons. Then, walk your child to their lesson and enthusiastically greet your teacher. If you trust us, your child will, too. Building familiarity can reduce fear.
  2. Stay positive. An article I read said, “parents are the choreographers of their children’s emotional state.” That is so true. If you dread swim lessons, exhibit worry or exude negativity, your child will, too. Talk up the lesson, the teachers and the school. Stay positive about swim class and happily cheer your child on even when you’re both nervous. As parents, we have to push our children out of their comfort zone and, as a result, build confidence. Hugs and high-fives go along way to reassure nervous children.
  3. Be the parent. Your child is going to tell you that they don’t want to swim. They’re probably also going to tell you they don’t want to eat broccoli, sit in their car seat and go to school. As parents, certain things have to be non-negotiable – especially when it comes to a child’s safety. So, when they say no to swim lessons, re-read #1 and #2 above. Arguing over swim lessons and a child’s unhappiness is a small price to pay to keep your child safe. They’ll hate you for it now, but thank you for it later. Trust me. I know.
  4. Commit the time. Mastering swim skills takes time. My children spent many years in lessons. Learning how to properly execute skills requires persistence and practice. Doing the doggie paddle to the side of the pool is not swimming. It’s not even keeping your child safe. Stay the course and commit the time to making sure your child learns how to swim properly, efficiently and skillfully. If you pulled your child out of school in 6th grade, would they be ready for the world? Similarly, if you pull your child out of swim lessons before they graduate, they’re not ready for the water. Children take piano lessons for six years, but swim lessons for only six weeks. Something is wrong when we don’t place enough emphasis on a life skill.
  5. Practice. The more you practice the skills we teach with your child, the faster they’ll graduate our program. Attend family swims and get in the pool. Practice kicking, pulling, floats and breathing. It’s a fun time to bond with your child and you’re helping cement a life skill. Our job as parents is to foster independence and confidence in our children. When you join your children in the pool you’re doing that and having fun.

Sonali Morris is a co-owner of Goldfish Swim School – Cleveland East Side and Goldfish Swim School – Fairview Park. Stay tuned to hear Sonali’s son’s side of the story and how he has grown to love competitive swimming next month!