You’ve signed up for swimming, gotten the kids ready, packed the car, brought a change of clothes and even packed their favourite treats only to arrive at the pool with a screaming inconsolable child that is too scared to swim. Many of us have been there, it can be tough. Here are some helpful tips to get your child to love the water!
Understanding where the fear comes from
In young children, fear is often related to developmental advances that give kids a new (but not always realistic) awareness of potential dangers. As they pass different developmental milestones they develop fears based on their perception of danger, reality and imagination.
Couple this with a bad experience can lead to a prolonged period of fear. A slip in the tub that momentarily dunked his face in the water or a loud motorboat that startled him at the beach can spook a child for months afterward.
Tips for Overcoming the fear?
- Always take your child’s fear seriously but don’t overreact or overdramatise it.
- Praise and encourage your child when he tries to overcome fear. Express confidence he will eventually succeed.
- Find ways to break the feared experience into small, manageable steps eg. practice “swimming” in the bath, dip feet and toys into the toddler pool until they are comfortable.
- Give your child frequent reassurance she is safe. One technique to try is for you to go into the water and have your child throw a toy at you. You then bring the toy to the pool edge and continue this activity to reassure them that its safe and you will guide them back to the pool edge.
- Find storybooks that discuss the fear to read with your child. EG. Peppa and George Go Swimming,
- Familiarise your child with the pool before starting lessons and keep pool sessions short. Start with 5-10 minutes if your child really isn’t comfortable and slowly increase them over time.
- Get the right equipment- Whether its Batman swimmers, Peppa Pig goggles, bath toys or floaties. Make sure you are equipped to give them the best possible experience. Just remember that floaties can provide a false sense of security to and are in no way a good substitute for actually being able to swim — so keep your little one at arm’s length whether she’s wearing a flotation aid or not.
- If getting their face wet is the issue, dip a cloth or sponge in the pool and dab one another’s face so they can get used to the wetness. Have them bring a handful of water up to her mouth and blow bubbles. Blow a rubber duck across the surface, slowly working on getting the face closer to the water.
- Be patient. Respect that your child is genuinely fearful and don’t force them to go any faster than they are able. Try each of these activities as many times as necessary until your child become comfortable
- Do not wait until your child gets older to teach them to swim. Fear does not necessarily diminish with age. Safe and positive exposure to the water will help diminish the fear
- Make it fun!
- Stay positive, be patient and don’t give up. While it can be disheartening to feel like the only parent with a screaming child, most of us have been there. Keep taking small steps towards the goal of swimming!