To his three-year-old son he loves Bathing time and he seemed excited about his family’s next trip to the beach. But when you got to the beach, they were silent and didn’t even dip their toes in the water. Or maybe your baby liked it when you gently held it in the pool, but now that it’s a little boy , the mere mention of a trip to the pool triggers an emphatic refrain «No!»
If these types of scenarios sound familiar, you are not alone. It is very common for young children to develop a fear of water and for parents to feel frustrated and insecure about how to get their children to overcome these fears.
Don’t worry – there are several tactics you can try to help your child overcome this fear. In any case, it is unusual for a child to hold on to these fears beyond the early years of childhood.
What causes fear of water in childhood?
In most cases, you can blame the immaturity of the development of water fear in children. Babies do not always have an awareness of water as something to fear and will usually splash happily in the bath, lake, ocean or pool. But as children get older, it is common for them to be afraid of water.
The small and preschool years are the best years to develop the fear of water. Because:
- Your child can suddenly realize the immensity and mystery of large pools of water.
- They may realize that water is potentially dangerous.
- However, they have not yet developed any way to rationalize or put these fears into perspective.
- Your child does not yet have the life experience to know that while large bodies of water may seem foreboding and frightening, in reality they are not.
Some children may ignore these fears more easily than others. If your child has had a difficult experience with water or a particularly tense association with it, these fears may be more intense.
- If your child has had a terrifying experience in the water (even in the tub), such as slipping, excessive splashing, or unwanted immersion in water, this can make these fears even more widespread and harder to eliminate.
- Some children may not have had a particularly frightening experience in the water, but they may have had an uncomfortable experience, such as water in their nose or eyes, and the worry that this will happen again makes them reluctant to do so. enter the water.
- A child who has sensory processing problems or is prone to sensory overload may struggle with water, sand or loud noises that accompany many trips on the water.
Strategies to ease your child’s fears
It is natural to feel lost when your child has an irrational fear of water or fears that seem impossible to overcome.
It is best to take a measured, empathetic, and calm approach when dealing with your child’s fears. After all, if you show stress, they will take over and this will only increase their own fears.
Here are some strategies to try:
Gradually letting the baby get used to the water can be very helpful. Maybe on the first day he just softens his toes, the next day he gets on his knees, then on his waist, etc. Some children even need more time to feel comfortable. Don’t push him.
Colored glasses, water wings with your favorite character, a sturdy life jacket. Some children will feel more comfortable entering with less equipment. These items can make them feel safe. It is important to note that as fun as some of these items are, they are not toys. And as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents not must allowing flotation to give them a false sense of security or to use them as a substitute for practical supervision.
Individual swimming lessons
Some children are more likely to listen to another adult than their parents when it comes to getting into the water. A friendly and patient swimming instructor can do the trick; They also have a lot of experience with this problem and their own tricks when it comes to making children more comfortable in the water.
Come in with them
Some children feel comfortable only if they go in the water with them. It may take a few days to wear or hold your hand and then move away slightly. But even when backing up, never go too far. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents stay within reach inexperienced swimmers always.
It can help you understand the reason behind your child’s fear. Sometimes this can be difficult to determine, especially if there is a more general fear of water. But many children will be able to tell you about a horror movie they saw about water or a specific fear, such as a monster living at the bottom of a lake or pool. If you know what they are dealing with, it may be easier to help them overcome their fear and feel more comfortable in the water.
If your child looks particularly scared or impatient And you can’t get to the bottom, meeting for a session or two with a child psychologist can work wonders.
When should you teach your child to swim?
Of course, you have to be patient while your child overcomes his fear of water. But it is important not to let your child’s fear stop you Learn to swim .
According to the CDC, after birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4 years. And one of the best ways to defend against it is to teach a child to swim.
In fact, although the American Academy of Pediatrics had previously advised children to wait until the age of four to begin swimming lessons, in March 2019 they changed their guidelines to add that children should start swimming lessons from one year old. that this could reduce drowning rates among young children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you discuss with your pediatrician how to prepare your child’s development for swimming lessons and look for a swimming training program with experienced teachers. Your pediatrician is also a great resource for discussing any concerns your child may have about water; they can have their own personalized plan to help their child overcome these fears.
A word from Verywell
It can be very stressful for parents to see their children struggling with fear and anxiety. It is a natural impulse to want to try to rationalize with your child or to urge him in uncertain terms to simply «pass» what bothers him. But with something like fear of water, you should definitely be careful (pun!) And help them overcome their fear as patiently as you can.
However, do not go it alone. If simple strategies like the ones above don’t seem to work, contact your doctor, psychologist or certified swimming instructor for advice. It is important not to let your child’s fear of water take over, as it is important to teach them to swim and they need to do something as soon as possible.