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Sports and physical activity, like swimming, are an excellent way to build confidence in kids. It gives them independence, teaches them about success and failure, and molds them into a confident little swimmer. Swimming is often a solo activity and is a skill that kids can learn at a young age. Learning to float, dive, and tread water on their own helps in instilling the idea that they can accomplish anything with hard work. Here are 7 tips on building confidence in kids:

1. Let Them Make Decisions

Let your child decide what skill they want to practice, what toys they want to bring into the pool, what song to sing in the water, or what activity or game to play. Provide them with a limited amount of appropriate choices and help them think through the steps by asking questions, this will encourage your kids to choose for themselves. You could also gamify decision-making to make it more fun, a popular game is “would you rather”. When answering a question, you have to choose one or the other, there is no third option. This builds good and decisive decision-making in children which in turn, builds confidence in kids. This Psychology Today article goes into more detail about children and decision making that could guide you.

2. Model Confidence Yourself

Confidence is a skill that is learned over time and takes shape from the experiences and influences in our lives. Your kids learn almost everything from you, and confidence is no different. Exude confidence yourself and your kids are bound to follow suit. Use positive self-talk in front of your kids at all times, and in the pool. Nurture your child’s confidence through day-to-day interactions.

3. Allow and Facilitate Play

Playtime is important for kids, it teaches them how to solve problems. Letting your child lead playtime will build their confidence, assertiveness and leadership skills. Get in the water with your child and dive into their world. Playtime provides you with a great opportunity to demonstrate your confidence in water – especially if you have a child that is afraid of water or swimming. Seeing your confidence in the water and having playtime in the water will foster positive associations with water in your child. There are a number of simple and fun games you can try with your child, play to get them comfortable in the water. Maintain a positive attitude while demonstrating how much fun could be had in the water! There are also some games you could play with your kids if they are already comfortable in the water, here are some of them:
  • Underwater humming
  • Fishy in the middle
  • Starfish tag
  • Swimming through legs

4. Allow them to Learn from Mistakes

Whether it’s a float that just won’t last or a dive turned belly flop, allow your kids to reflect on what went wrong and practice it again. Refrain from telling them exactly how to fix what went awry and encourage them to figure out the correct method themselves. Children learn from mistakes, gaining confidence and resilience. Neither you nor your child should be afraid of failure. Embrace failure as a process, no one is perfect – mistakes lead to self-assessment and adaptation. A trial and error approach builds confidence in many different ways while providing children with social and emotional building blocks to cope with life. Your child will learn how to trust themselves, how to control frustration and anger, how to get out of their comfort zone to try new things or do things better.

Moreover, try not to instill shame when your child makes a mistake, they will associate making a mistake with anger and disappointment which may discourage them from trying to fix the mistake. Think about a time or an experience that made you feel anxious about getting things wrong, this can help you avoid creating the same worries for your own children. You want to instill in them that they can navigate the pool and the world on their own.

5. Help Them Set Goals

Learning to swim takes a lot of practice so it is important to sit down with your child and set realistic goals to help them make progress. The following are a few examples of goals you could potentially set, make sure you help them set goals that are attainable and appropriate to their abilities:


  • Hold your breath underwater for 10 seconds
  • Swim from point A to point B (ask your child to swim to you from the stairs)
  • Sit on the pool floor
  • Jump into the pool
  • Tread water for 3 minutes
  • Swim 5 laps in the shallow end

6. Encourage Them

If your kid is struggling with a task or a skill, whether it’s to hold their breath underwater, floating, treading or doing the front crawl encourage them to keep practicing until they master it. Don’t let them get discouraged by struggles and setbacks. Your child will learn that persevering leads to results and that they can overcome anything if they just keep trying instead of giving up or fearing failure. Research shows that negative feedback is mostly futile for children under 12. A study of eight- and nine-year-olds by psychologist Dr. Eveline Crone revealed that the area of their brain responsible for cognitive control reacted strongly to positive feedback, but hardly at all to negative feedback (Leiden University). Therefore, building confidence in kids is dependant on positive reinforcement!

It is crucial to let your kid know you believe in them, while also communicating that you will not be disappointed if they are not ready. As a parent, your role is to support your child whenever they are ready to try again. When children feel in control, they feel strong and confident.

7. Praise Perseverance

Swimming is challenging and it is important to recognize how much effort and time your child is putting into learning to swim. Celebrate progress!

Another study conducted by Carol Dweck found that kids should be praised for effort rather than intelligence; as praising them for intelligence makes them less likely to persist in the face of challenge. The study discovered kids praised for their intelligence became discouraged by their mistakes and thought of themselves as failures. Children praised for their effort, worked very hard despite making mistakes along the way. Intelligence testing found kids praised for their intelligence dropped by 20% while children praised for their effort increased by 30%.

A great way to celebrate progress is by documenting it! Think of growth charts, as your child grows over the months and years you measure them and add another notch, higher than the last. Take videos of your child’s learning process so that you can both look back on how far they’ve come. Your kid may not realize how much progress they’ve made until they look back and can see for themselves.

To Sum Up…

The key to building confidence in kids is patience and support. The independence, confidence, decision-making, and lessons about success and failure gained from swimming are invaluable to the development of children. These tips will help you prepare your kids for the future.

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