Tips to Help Kids Who are Afraid of the Water

Most everyone in their lifetime will be presented with an opportunity to swim and play in the water. Our planet is, after all, mostly water. To be safe, and enjoy our natural resource, everyone should learn how to swim. However, for some the water seems scary – especially putting their head under water.

The first thing to understand with children and water is that if a parent has a fear of water kids will sense that and it will affect their ability to swim. It is very important to respect water and a certain amount of fear is not a bad thing. Finding a comfortable place where respect overcomes fear is the best mindset.

Respect is a big word for young kids. One way to teach respect for water is to create rules such as: – Mom/Dad gets in first – Never swim alone – Never go head-first into any water If parents do have a fear of water and swimming it is best to have a certified water safety instructor teach your children, and you, how to swim without fear. The earlier you can expose a child to water the better. If your child has a fear of water take the following steps very slowly and lead with your example. Always give praise (clapping works well). Children love this attention and it can motivate them to keep working at swimming.

  • Step 1: Bring the child to the side of the pool/lake and teach them the water rules. The best water environment to begin learning how to swim is a place where children can walk into the water gradually and where adults can stand to provide support. Do not use water wings or other flotation devices to get your child into the water. These tools can give children a false sense of security that can be difficult to overcome.
  • Step 2: Touch the water with your child. Feel it, show them it’s safe and talk about what it looks like and how fun it can be. Then progress to splashing with hands and kicking their feet while sitting on the edge.
  • Step 3: Blow bubbles. Children can do this sitting or standing in the water. Simply putting their mouth (lips closed) in the water is a big step for some. Progressing to blowing bubbles and even making sounds while making bubbles can be fun!
  • Step 4: Retrieve toys. Sinking rings are great toys for learning that it’s ok to go to the bottom of the pool. Drop the rings in very shallow where they just have to reach down to retrieve them. This may be as far as you get for a long time, and that’s o.k. Progress to having the child bend over to get the ring. The goal is to use the ring to get your child to put their head underwater to retrieve it without even really thinking about going under.
  • Step 5: Move away from the edge. Hold your child under their armpits with your hands so that they are on their stomach. Encourage them to pick up their feet and kick. Try this on their back, too although for most children being on their backs in the water is very scary and tricky. Try getting the child to make letters with their bodies while on their backs (T and I work well), or get them to sing a song. Adding kicking, blowing bubbles, and then arm movements is the typical
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    progression for both front and back supporting floating.

  • Step 6: Zoom to Mom/Dad. Stand really close to your child who is at the edge of the water and have them push off from standing or seating to reach you. If they are successful, step back and keep moving back until they have to use kicking and arm movements to reach you.

Gradually your child will gain confidence and independence and start to show you what they can do. Once they reach this point, re-visit the water rules and teach them how to get back to the wall so that they can help themselves if they start to feel scared.