Taking the Plunge: Helping Your Child Overcome the Fear of Water
Families often enjoy playing in the sun and water—yet for some children, this is a time filled with anxiety and frustration. Has your child’s fear of water become a major obstacle to summer fun? Help your child learn to overcome those fears by being patient and providing plenty of opportunities for safe aquatic play.
- Babies are developing trust. Bathe with your infant to provide comfort and encourage adjustment to water. Sit in shallow water and use gentle movements to reinforce your child’s trust. Never toss or dunk her under the water, and never leave her unattended.
- Toddlers are developing independence and often want to swim solo before they have acquired the necessary skills. Use a wading pool and water toys to let your child explore water without the more dangerous issues of a large pool. Pools with steps also allow a safe place for your toddler to play. Sit in the water with her and play games that encourage imitation. This will gradually ease her into getting water on her face. Keep an eye on your child at all times.
- Preschoolers are learning that actions have consequences. Encourage your child to play in shallow water with toys that teach cause and effect. Cups with holes, toys that squirt, or a board that floats will tempt your child to play in the water. Your child may forget his fear if he is playing with fun toys or fearless friends.
- School-age children are learning through goal setting, achievement, and deepening friendships. During this stage, even a cautious child can begin to master skills such as floating, putting his face in the water, and swimming without floatation devices. Expose your child to friends who are strong swimmers. Wanting to compete with friends diving for coins or tossing rings could be just the incentive he needs to overcome his fear.
What’s Your Situation?
If a bad experience in the water has violated your child’s trust, it may make it harder for him to face the water. For example, if a child asks an adult not to let go of him in the pool and the adult does let go, it may take some time and effort for the child to regain his sense of comfort in the water. Keep in mind that if your child has experienced other fearful situations such as being hospitalized or losing a loved one, he or she may be wary of any situation of which she is not in complete control. Be patient and loving; your child will be enticed by the water in her own time and not by being coaxed.
Know Your Child
If your child is innately cautious, slow to engage in new activities, or skittish about climbing and sliding, she may also fear water. These fears relate to your child’s temperament, and pushing your child will often exacerbate her concerns. Acting cautiously is a coping mechanism and makes her feel better. Inevitably, this keeps her safe in the water.
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