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Helping kids overcome their fear of swimming

FEB 24 2020

If you have a toddler or child afraid of water, (often known as aquaphobia), you’ll probably have been tempted to postpone getting them started with swimming lessons.

You may have thought they would get over their fear of swimming as they grew older and you would try again in a few years’ time.

You may even have given up on the idea entirely. Perhaps after a few traumatic attempts to get them into the water.

Either of these would be a mistake. A fear of swimming is fairly common amongst infants, toddlers and older children, and it’s not going to go away by itself, it must be addressed. But addressed in a caring, understanding safe way.

On the plus side, there are several fairly effective techniques for helping your child afraid of water get over their fear. And there’s no reason why they can’t go on to be an extremely confident and competent swimmer having done so.

Even better, getting over their fear of swimming will give them confidence to deal with any other fears they may have.

But, before we get on to the techniques for helping them overcome their fears, let’s start further back: why are kids afraid of water?

Why are kids afraid of water?

There are several factors that can cause aquaphobia in kids. And, as with most phobias, sometimes it is caused by one factor alone, but more often it is a combination of the following:

  • Parents passing fear of water down unintentionally
  • Separation anxiety (from their parents)
  • Anxiety caused by the noise, activity and smell around the pool
  • The memory of a negative or traumatic experience in water
  • Dislike of getting wet
  • Dislike of water going in their nose or eyes
  • Seeing an upsetting water-related incident in the pool or on TV

Try to establish the cause of their aquaphobia, as doing so we’ll make it a lot easier to address.

How do you teach a child to swim who is afraid of water?

Often children who are afraid of swimming have sensitive, intense or inflexible temperaments by nature. It’s vitally important for you to be positive and relaxed at all times, this helps to take the pressure off them in what is a stressful situation.

Validate their feelings and never be agitated or judgmental in dealing with them. Your patience is also key in helping them to overcome their fear of swimming.

Make trips to the swimming pool as fun as possible and slowly they should start to have positive associations with the activity.

Many experts recommend using what is called systematic desensitisation, if your child is afraid of water. This involves taking baby steps to get them from a place where they are fearful of swimming to being a confident swimmer.

Talk to your child and map out the journey in tiny steps. Follow them very slowly, making sure to reward your child every time they complete one.

If they have a complete fear of water, rather than a specific fear of swimming pools, you might want to use baths and paddling pools to start off.

It could be the case that your child is more scared by the idea of swimming than the actual experience. In these cases it is essential to take some time to observe the surroundings before they get started.

Encouraging them to play with water toys on the side of the pool is a great way to build comfort. The next step, if they’re feeling comfortable, would be to do some paddling.

You will see their bravery and confidence start to increase every time they complete a step, and occasionally they might want to skip one or two steps along the way.

Achieving these small goals will help to keep your child motivated, and you might want to think about giving them a small reward every time they complete one.

Social anxiety might be a factor behind their fear of swimming. If this is the case, consider opting for one-on-one lessons as opposed to group. Going to a smaller pool or at quieter time might also help significantly.

Needless to say, most professional swimming instructors will pick up on your child’s fear of swimming immediately and be trained in the best techniques to overcome it. If you have any doubts at all speak to them prior to the first lesson.

It’s essential not to make their fear of water a big deal. It is quite common and perfectly natural amongst children and can be overcome with patience, reassurance and a combination of the techniques we have outlined.

Here at Kingswim, we offer a range of swimming lessons for all ages ranging from babies and toddlers all the way up to adults. All of our nationally qualified coaches are extremely experienced and adept at dealing with any fear of water amongst our younger learners.

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