While some kids take to the water like fish, other are afraid of water and anxious about learning to swim. Fear of water can develop from a bad swimming experience, or simply a fear of a new and different environment (the aquatic environment). Regardless of what’s causing the fear, it’s important to help your child overcome their fear, so they can learn to swim and to be safe in the water at the earliest possible age.
Here are the 5 steps to teach a child afraid of water to swim:
Step 1. Help kids become comfortable to happily and willingly enter the pool
Step 2. Once in the water, help kids feel comfortable being held by you
Step 3. Kids become more independent in the water
Step 4. Children overcome the feeling of “falling” under the water
Step 5. Kids have the confidence to swim completely on their own
Keep in mind that not all children have the same level of fear. Begin with the step appropriate for your child and always progress through steps at the child’s pace.
Step 1: Help kids become comfortable to happily and willingly enter the pool
Children should not be forced to enter the swimming pool.
Find out when exactly does your child show fear: when you bring up the topic of swimming? Once you arrive at the swimming pool? When you and your child approach the swimming pool? When you try to place your child into the water? If you try to let go of your child? It’s important to know exactly which part of swimming makes your child scared.
If the idea of swimming makes your kid terrified, begin by just taking your child to the pool to observe the environment. Explain he/she will not swim, but only look at the water and observe the other swimmers. Repeat this activity until your kid is comfortable with the idea of going to the pool. Next introduce the idea of getting changed into the swimming suit and just walking around the pool area.
In the next few visits, bring some water toys and sit with your child by the edge of the pool and play with the toys.
Next play with the toys by the edge of the pool and place feet into the water and kick. Encourage your child to do the same.
Once your child becomes comfortable with all these activities, you can progress to the following: have your kid sit on the edge of the pool with his feet into the water; you stand up into the water in front of him; ask your child to throw toys into the water so you can retrieve the toys and bring them to him. Make sure you are always an arm length away from your child!
Lastly, ask your child to throw a floating toy into the water and to help you retrieve it. Reassure your child that once he catches the floating toy he will return to sitting on the edge of the pool. Hold your child tight, place him in the water, walk over and catch the toy, then place the child back on the edge. It’s important that your child sees that you kept your promise and he was only in the water for a few seconds. Do not trick the child. Next, go back to practicing the previous activity, where the kid sits on the edge and you bring the toys to him. After a few minutes ask the child again to help you retrieve a floating toy with the promise that he’ll return to sitting the edge. Remember the child has to agree to enter the water and help you catch the floating toy. If he doesn’t, give him time and do not force him.
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Tips: if your child is afraid to learn to swim, keep in mind..:
- Don’t force any activity and progress step by step
- Keep the pool sessions short: 20mins-30mins
- Try each of these activities as many times as necessary until your child become comfortable
- Equip yourself with lots of patience and a positive attitude!!
- When teaching swimming, especially to a child with aquaphobia, gaining the child’s trust is crucial. The fearful child should be given constant reassurance, step by step progression, a gentle and positive approach
- 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
- When learning to swim, kids should feel safe, relaxed and happy to learn, not scared or anxious. So before you can expect your child to actually learn to swim, first you have to help them overcome their fear of water
- It’s harder for kids with aquaphobia to overcome their fear and learn to swim in group lessons. The best setting for fearful children is one on one instruction. This way the parent/swim teacher can progress at the child’s pace
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