A nervous child doesn't need a dry face!

A huge number of my clients come to me with babies, toddlers and children who have had negative experiences in the pool - whether that's through adult led submersions with a baby swim school, or a fear brought on by a specific event. The good news is that with care and patience we can always work at their pace to give them a positive experience of the water moving forwards.

A common misconception is that a child who has had a negative experience should be protected from experiencing submersions of any kind - parents keep their children above the water at all costs and both parent and child leave the water with dry hair and faces at the end of the class. Any time another child has made a splash, the parent has moved their child away, the child has been prevented from going under the water when they jump in and the body has been kept high in the water at all times.

A parent who's protected their child from the water does so with the best intentions, and it makes sense - if their child has been put off the pool by a negative experience, we don't want to repeat that. But keeping the child dry will actually perpetuate the fear of water - it teaches the child that water really is something to steer clear of. If mum or dad is stopping water from coming near me, it really must be something to fear!

So how do we find a balance? How do we encourage a love of the water in a child who's nervous? The key is to focus on natural consequences - if a child jumps into the water, the likelihood is that they'll submerge themselves (what goes up must come down!). A well-intentioned parent catching the child at the surface of the water puts pressure on the ribs and tummy and can really hurt (imagine if someone did it to you), and it robs the child of learning that natural consequence. Let your child go into the water - give them reassurance, help them wipe their eyes or shake their heads to get the water out, keep everything light hearted and fun. If going under means your child chooses not to jump in a second time, that's fine! They'll do it again in the future. But a child choosing to jump into water is very different from an adult submerging them - they don't go down nearly as deep for a start, and they have made the choice themselves rather than someone doing it to them. If your child gets splashed, let it happen and again, keep it light and fun. Let your child pour water on your face, show your child that you happily put your face in and enjoy doing so, hold them nice and low in the pool so that they feel the water around them. They're more likely to get splashed, but they're also more likely to learn to swim (which is the goal after all!) Submerge together to collect sinkers from the bottom, let your child float and swim on you. If they've been submerged in the past, they need to learn to trust adults again around water, and every lesson in which they aren't submerged is a lesson closer to overcoming their fear.

The solution to a fear of water isn't to avoid water at all costs - quite the opposite, the solution is to make new, happy memories of being truly in the water - being splashed by it, going underneath it and feeling it all around us. Unless we give children those opportunities, they will never overcome their worries.

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