Near Drowning Experience. Teach a child afraid of water how to swim (Step 3 of 5)

September 17th, 2018

Here’s an email I received from a swim instructor who was working with a child who had a near drowning experience:


I am a swim instructor and I am currently teaching a 4.5 yr old child who had a near drowning experience. She had removed her water wings and got into the pool over her head.

We are making slow progress. She now can submerge her face while standing on the steps and pick up diving toys. However, as soon as we are out in the water her fear of “going down to the bottom” kicks in and there is where our progress stops.

We have been through months of lessons and she trusts me, however her fear is so deep seeded we can’t get past it.

Any tips?

Here is our advice:

Overcoming fear of water (especially after a near drowning experience) can take a long time. And the process can’t be rushed, as you’ll risk losing the progress you’ve made so far. It sounds like you are dealing with it the right way and that you have a good understanding that trust is very important and slow progress is to be expected.

There is a number of activities that you can try. Some may work with your swimmer, some may not – each child is different and what works for one, doesn’t necessary work for another. It sounds like you had your swimmer on water wings. And now you want to transition to independent swimming. I think you’ll need to introduce a few intermediary steps.

  1. The first activity I advice is having your swimmer on noodles. If she is nervous with one noodle, start with two noodles under the armpits.
  2. Have your swimmer doggie paddle with her head out of the water and with her head submerged then coming up for breaths (it sounds like she is comfortable putting her face in).
  3. If she his very nervous, hold her both hands, then one hand only.
  4. Progress to letting go for a few seconds then for longer times and distances.
  5. Use floating toys to make it fun and motivate her to swim for longer distances.

The main idea for this activity is for the swimmer to feel how they float on top of the water (even if it’s with noodle support for now). Remind her that the water pushes her up, encourage and praise her often. Have her float on noodles at the deeper end of the pool. If she says she doesn’t want to swim in the deep end, tell her that “the deeper the water, the better it helps her float”.

Do not ask your swimmer to try swimming without noodles yet. Spend at least 5 lessons doing this activity. And of course continue with the activities that she is comfortable with and enjoys, like picking up diving toys from the steps.

There are more progressive steps to take from here and I am happy to be in touch and guide you through them. Let’s try the noodles first and let me know how she progresses in 5 lessons.

P.S. All the activities from Level 1 and Level 2 are good for your swimmer.

Gilda Dobrica

If you are a parent or a swim instructor working with a child afraid of water, or who had a near drowning experience, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your experience so others can learn and so we can prevent child drowning by teaching children to swim and to be very comfortable in the water.

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