Parenting, Travel

How to help a child get over the fear of swimming

The girls have been going to swimming lessons offered at our health club for just over 8 weeks now. We’ve watched them go from terrified of the water, refusing to get their hair wet, to pre-Olympic hopefuls! Well, almost.

OK, so they may not be ready for Olympic Trials, but I am completely amazed at their individual progress. Though I may have exaggerated on their end result, I did not exaggerate their starting point. Terrified of water. Challenging our pool and beach themed vacations. Frustrating for all.

The 4 year old has already graduated to the next level. She jumped into the pool and went under water. By choice! She’s blowing bubbles, learning form, back floats, forward paddles, and loving every minute of it. Joy!

The 3 year old is taking queues from her big sister and has been independently floating on a noodle for a couple weeks now. She can blow bubbles, and is working up the courage to put her whole face in. She did jump off the side today while holding our hands. I’m thrilled.

If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I never would have guessed we would be at this point. I was just talking with a co-worker on Friday. She expressed how she was taking her 4 year granddaughter to swimming lessons and wasn’t making any progress. Based on our conversation, I thought it might be useful to share some of what worked well for us. There are no guarantees, but if you’re feeling stuck as a parent or caregiver on how to help a child get over their fear of swimming or water, maybe these thoughts will help.

  • We bought a very specific pair of goggles. The Aqua Sphere Youth Vista Jr. Goggles came highly recommended from the sales associate. He stated that he had gone through three pairs of goggles before discovering these for his preschooler. The pros are that they cover a wide surface area of the face, allow for greater panoramic vision, and therefore seem to provide a greater sense of security in the water.
  • The goggles are worn while in the water whether they intend to go under the surface or not. The girls needed time to adjust to having something on their face in the first place. They needed to build trust that the goggles would truly keep water out of their eyes. The swim instructor was able to successfully do the bucket pour and splashing games with the girls in the couple weeks leading up to going under water.
  • We invested in swim lessons so that a different adult was teaching the girls instead of us. We are too close to the girls and would either push too hard and cause resistance, or not push hard enough and they’d still be sitting on the edge of the pool. The ratio for lessons is 1:3. We have the most amazing instructor and I feel so grateful to her for encouraging my girls and teaching them this valuable life safety and physical fitness skill.
  • Finally, my husband and I made a strong commitment to listen to the girls and honor their pace. No surprise dunks. We do frequent check-ins to see what they feel comfortable with. We use the words “safe,” “trust,” and “only when you’re ready,” a lot in the pool.

It’s amazing to watch their progression and see their confidence build. Neither my husband nor I were swimmers growing up. I got by, but never felt very confident in the water. I didn’t want to see my girls “get by.” A few years ago I actually decided to take swimming lessons as an adult. The motivation came after returning from a Caribbean beach vacation. I did a snorkel adventure with a tour group and fell in love with the activity. I decided that I wanted nothing more than to feel confident and strong in the water so I could return and do more. Now I’ve been swimming off the Palancar Reef in Mexico, the Molokini Crater in Maui, and in the Ligurian Sea off the Italian Riviera. We’re going to more of this as a family, so we all need to be prepared!

Just keep swimming!

A. Lockhart

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