How can we make the best out of a bad swim class situation for our toddler?
April 21, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Todder Swim - how can we make the best of this class situation? Way more inside.

Our 17-month-old is in a swim class and HATES it. Do we keep torturing him or try to get our money back?

As background, kid was in YMCA swim from 5 months-11 months and loved it. The class was 10-11am, quiet (only 4 babies/parents and some senior citizens doing laps), and had lots of rules, including: no one enter the pool without instructor. The only downsides? It is only during the day (kid is now in full time daycare) and it wasn't "instructional."

Enter 2 different swim schools in our town. Since our kid was born we heard how great the 2 schools were (and there were arguments about which was better, but it seemed to me that people were loyal to whichever one they attended.) We chose the Y because it was cheaper than the 2 swim schools. But now we need a swim class that operates in the evenings and we thought that something less "singing and floating" and more "instructional" would be a good idea. So we signed up for the swim school closest to our house.

We paid ~$160 for 8 classes. We listed our preferred times/day (anything after 6pm except on Wednesdays). The owner called and placed us in a class that was "full of more advanced kids, but he'll catch up. No problem." I trusted her.

Week 1, I (mom) and kid go to lessons. Kid freaks out and cries for the entire lesson chanting "no no no". Repeat with dad in week 2 and again with mom in week 3. (Assume that mom and dad try to be extremely positive, praise kid, talk about how great it is that we're swimming, praise other kids, sing little songs in his ear, etc. etc. etc.) He is wearing a wet suit. The pool is warm.

Problem 1: the pool area is a madhouse:
The pool is in a retirement home and the swim school rents it out. It is a small pool. There were way too many kids in the pool - the 6-7 parents/babies, a dozen older kids with instructors in private lessons, and of greatest concern, ~6-8 kids just playing on the ramp into the pool and near the entryways. Parents hang out in chairs along the side. It was so noisy, I could barely hear myself think. There seem to be no enforced rules about all of this, although the website says that parents need to keep and eye on their kids and that kids can only play on the ramp for 15 minutes before and after lessons (!!!?!?!?!?!). It is really tough to walk down the ramp or calm a toddler in the corner when there are 8 year olds doing flips on the ramp bars.
Also there are TONS of toys floating all over the pool and sitting on the edge. I don't know why these toys are in the pool. There are stuffed animals (not meant for water), balls, squirty bath toys, and big trucks. Why? My kid just wants to go for them.

Problem 2: the class is too advanced:
The kids in my (17-month-old) kid's class are all on the other side of 2 years old and have all been in this class together since they were 6 months old. I am not exaggerating when I say that these kids are seriously swimming - above and underwater. While it is cool that they can do this, my kid cannot participate in activities like jumping off of a platform and swimming underwater to the instructor like all the other kids do, so he hangs onto me screaming. I also imagine that this is disruptive to the other parents/kids.

I realize that my unhappiness with the noise/craziness and the advanced class is not helping my son's unhappiness.

After each class, I've spoken to the owner/instructor about my son's unhappiness (I haven't mentioned my dislike of the environment) and she says that he'll get used to it. While he does calm down A LITTLE by the end of the class, it means that he isn't screaming and is just crying.

I asked the owner/instructor if we can switch to a less advanced class. She says that there is no room in any of the other classes. (Although we might be able to squeeze into an earlier class on the same day that might be less advanced.)

(FWIW, the owner/instructor has a bit of reputation in town for being a bully.)

But I don't know if it is worthwhile to keep in these classes if he hates it so much. But I'd like my money back, but the website says 30-day written notice, so it isn't like one gets any money back! (Yet this other part of the website says no refunds.)

So, my question is - do we suck it up? In your experience does this phase of crying/screaming pass? Can we do anything about it? If we don't suck it up, what kind of language can we use with the owner/instructor to try to get our money back? We parents want to go back to the good ol' days of the YMCA!

I'm going to call the owner today, but I'd like to be armed with some AskMe knowledge.
posted by k8t to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We parents want to go back to the good ol' days of the YMCA!

I'm surprised your Y doesn't offer Saturday swim classes. I work at a Y and about 80% of our swim classes are held on Saturday mornings.
posted by anastasiav at 9:59 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't take the chance that this will form an association between being in the water and being scared/stressed out. I would get him out of there and write off the $160 as an investment in his future enjoyment of the water. Then scope out the other places yourself before you sign him up for another one.
posted by amethysts at 10:01 AM on April 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds like it's really scaring him, and pushing him into accepting the pool might make it more of an issue. 17 months is still a lot more baby than toddler, so he's too little to respond to freaky situations with a "I'll just suck it up for Mom and Dad" attitude. Also, this age typically comes with water fears--my 17 month-old charge became terrified of the bath for about two solid months, even though she previously loved it. People said she was afraid of going down the drain (as if she had any concept of that!) but I think it's just a natural "WTF is this wet stuff, please stop putting me in it" combined with separation anxiety. I know she would have flipped her toddler shit if we took her in a loud, splashy, busy pool. She got over the phase, but it took many weeks of me filling up the tub and just having her stand by it, sometimes reaching in to play with the rubber ducks. Aside from some greasy hair that we combed through with water, she was fine. Now she loves the bath again. The point is, we didn't push the bath or make an issue of it, and she eventually came around to the concept once again.

The instructor, if she's remotely experienced with young toddlers in pools, shouldn't sweat it if you opt to get a refund for the class you will not attend. If you have friends in the area who might be interested in the class, maybe offer to have them fill in and you can work out the fee amongst yourselves. But don't put your son into super-traumatizing situations just because an instructor--who doesn't know your kid at all--claims he'll get over it.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:01 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, this is not acceptable. Your child is not developmentally at the same place as kids who are over two years over. You might need to suck up the loss of the money. Swimming should be first and foremost fun at this age.
posted by ms.v. at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

My kid is the same age as yours and I would totally bail. Unpleasant for you, unpleasant for the kid, unpleasant (and maybe scary) for the other kids. Plus, it's likely to make water a 'thing'. Stay home and blow up a balloon pool.

There's lots of opportunity in life to learn that sometimes you've got to suck it up, but personally, I'm not starting that one for quite a while.

Screw the money. Life is too short and there are so many annoying, unpleasant environments--anything we can do to minimize the time we spend in them, the better.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2010

Are you in the water with him? It's unclear from your description. Not that it matters, but at that age, I was in the water with my son, which made things much less crazy.

I'd point out to the owner that you agreed to enroll in the more advanced class based on her reassurances that it would be a good environment for your child. Since it is clearly not - and you know your child better than the owner and should be the one to make that call - you expect that she'll either find a space in the appropriate age/skill level class for your child, or refund at least part of your money.

In the end, whether you get your money back or not, I'd stop subjecting your child to this class. If it's clear that he's unhappy, and it will not help him in the long run to associate swimming with great unhappiness. That means you might have to suck up losing the money, but in the end, I'd say it's really not worth it to keep putting him (and you) through that unhappiness.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Lulu, yes, I am in the water with him (and the other parents in this class are in the water with their kids, although those kids are pretty independently swimming.)
posted by k8t at 10:07 AM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: Can you try taking him to a calmer pool to try to determine if the issue is the water or the chaos? I ask because if its the chaos that is stressing him out, I would absolutely ask for a refund. or at the very least stop making him go.

If it's an issue with the water..... if it were me, I would still pull him out. But I grew up in a home where we didn't have to do anything we didn't want to do unless someone was relying on us. But also believe there's something to the idea that continued exposure to the water is probably good for him, especially if he used to like it and is going to be around it often. So, if he's just afraid of the water, he'd probably get over it.

Of course, it's probably harder for him to get over it in the chaos.

If you charged the classes, you might be able to get a partial refund through your credit card without having to fight with the owner.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:11 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely stop going. Your kid is being conditioned to hate the water, based on everything you wrote. I would make one big push to get at least some of your money back. Tell the owner that the recommendation for this class was totally inappropriate, the other kids are way too advanced, and that they have never made an appropriate effort to put your child in a class whose level is suited to him. If they were not ready to accommodate your child at the appropriate level, they never should have enrolled you in the first place.

And I would also spread the word, mommy-wise. Whether you blog, or email, or chat or yelp about it -- this is exactly the kind of stuff i want to know about in my town.

FYI, when I enrolled my son in swim school, he was about 3-ish. (I don't remember exactly.) The school we went to did private lessons, 20 minutes long. The instructors were quiet and gentle. The pool would have three or four lessons going on at once, but each instructor kept their voice down, so the entire vibe was calm. They only had a couple of pool toys on hand, and those were used in a specific way at the end of each lesson -- like a nice reward for the kids.

Based on your kid's anxiety and trauma level, I'd wait at least six months before trying swim lessons again.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:11 AM on April 21, 2010

Stop going immediately. This is just a stranger's anecdotal report, but I had a similar experience, and despite trying to conquer the fear many times it ruined the fun for me many times at pools, the beach, the swimming holes...
posted by quarterframer at 10:22 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your kid is anything like I was, get him out of that class! A similar experience traumatized me for years; I didn't learn how to swim for probably five years after that, and then it was after I got maybe four or five weeks' worth of lessons from a private instructor at the YMCA. If your kid hasn't "gotten used to it" yet, odds say he's not going to; he's just going to develop a fear of swimming (incidentally, I never developed a fear of the water, per se, but I wore those inflatable arm things in the pool for years until I finally learned how to swim).
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:55 AM on April 21, 2010

Nthing "stop going." My daughter did a similar thing when she was around 2 and it just really wasn't worth the trauma. The following summer we just tried again, and it was fine.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:58 AM on April 21, 2010

Just reading this was stressful. If you need more reasons to stop going, keep in mind that kids may be at a significantly higher risk of developing asthma if exposed to swimming pool chlorine before the age of five.
posted by halogen at 11:10 AM on April 21, 2010

Based on the reassurances and activities like jumping off of a platform and swimming underwater to the instructor like all the other kids I would totally call shenanigans and go after a refund, starting with a bland but firm written request. Offer to settle for a transferable credit you could sell on CL or some such? Involve the BBB or any other likely agency if necessary. It sounds like you paid $160 to stand in the corner no matter how your toddler felt about the lessons. Stuffed animals -- WTF? I would wonder about licensing requirements for public pools and rules vis-a-vis non-pool-toys poolside.
posted by kmennie at 11:38 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sometimes people have a NO REFUNDS policy stated, but do actually make exceptions if you put up enough of a fuss. It makes it easier to deal with the scammers and the crazies if you play the it’s just policy card. My roommate works for a pay to play league in the city and they do this. It’s possible that if you state your case in a calmly worded letter explaining that you were misled and that the class is seriously traumatizing the kiddo they might take pity on you. It’s worth a shot at least if you decide to quit regardless.
posted by edbles at 11:49 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have kids so you might so this observation might not be valid or useful, but my sisters ones sometimes go through phases of terrible behavior where she can't really manage them well, especially in public. Causes have been teething, ear ache, not liking that she had a younger one recently, not liking moving houses, being sick with stomach problems and other things. I think a happy kid probably wouldn't mind a crowded pool with toys so maybe yours is going through something.

I would stop going for now and ask for a refund for the remaining lessons, or if they won't do that then maybe just a delay on them so you can try again in a few months. If they won't do either then I'd just let it go without protest. I wouldn't place any blame or do anything to possibly become known in your town as the really fussy mother, because these people probably talk to a ton of parents.

Next time maybe try ask for a separately paid trial session before signing up for activities - then you can see if your kid likes it or freaks out when people play flutes or jump around or whatever odd thing kids can fixate on.
posted by meepmeow at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2010

Put yourself in his position: his heart is pounding, his chest is tight, his extremities feel cold, he thinks something very bad is about to happen to him -- all those horrible sensations of terror. And he has no control over the situation, no way to escape; he's trapped in this terrifying place. Yes, there is a practical reason to stop taking him: this may ultimately delay his learning how to swim by teaching an association between the water and anxiety. But really, mostly, this is about the fact that he's a baby and he's scared.
posted by palliser at 1:14 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

No, you should stop going because your baby is scared, and you also have a good argument for a refund or at least credit based on the mismatch of skill levels.
posted by chinston at 1:27 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The swim school is a business. You are an unhappy customer. You are not getting what you paid for.

Call the owner. Tell the owner that the class is too advanced for your son, and you need to be moved to a smaller beginning class. If she says that all the classes are full, then ask for 1) your money back or 2) ask to start over again in the true beginning classes at the next session.

It was *her* decision to put your son in the wrong class, she made a mistake, and she needs to make it right.

And if she refuses, then stop going, and think about dropping a dime to the city or county because it sounds like there are all kinds of safety violations going on- there has to be some regulatory agency covering swim schools, figure out who that is and take your concerns there. I'm not suggesting threatening to report her; but from your description it doesn't sound very up to par.
posted by ambrosia at 1:32 PM on April 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

(FWIW, the owner/instructor has a bit of reputation in town for being a bully.)

You've seen them in action; do you think the reputation is justified? If so, pull your kid out. If you can get a refund using the tactics above, that's good too, but even if not... well, nothing teaches a kid to hate swimming (or any other sport/athletic activity) faster than having a bully for a coach.
posted by No-sword at 3:10 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm pretty good at getting refunds. What I would do is catch the owner away from class wherever they're most able to fulfill your request, whether it's in their office or on the phone. Tell them calmly, "This isn't working out for us, I'd like to withdraw from the class, and I need a refund, please." No matter what she comes back with, stay polite, but firm, and do not argue. "Yes, but this isn't working out, and I need a refund. I put it on my Visa." "Okay, yes, he was doing better at the last class, but may I have a refund, please?" Be a broken record. Don't hang up, don't move from the office.

If she still refuses and you put it on a credit card, you'll have what you need to do a chargeback.
posted by zinfandel at 8:41 PM on April 21, 2010

Oh, some language that might help is "We had a verbal agreement that this class was a good one for him and it isn't."
posted by zinfandel at 8:45 PM on April 21, 2010

This sounds horrible. Your kid is not even fully a toddler yet. No reason to force him into swim instruction. Most of what young swimmers learn in class is how to be comfortable in the water...and how to blow bubbles of course.
posted by radioamy at 9:14 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: As an update, I spoke with the owner and she wanted my kid to try out a less advanced class with more babies his age. We went and while he didn't turn into a dolphin within minutes, he didn't cry!

The new class is also at 6pm (not at 6:30 and thus closer to bedtime). Dad went in with him and I was on the sidelines cheering.

Thanks to everyone for the input!
posted by k8t at 10:25 AM on April 27, 2010

Thanks for the update!
posted by palliser at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2010

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