At seven months of age, Alexandra Pearce’s son loved mom-and-tot swim class. “He enjoyed splashing, chasing rubber duckies with my help, even putting his entire head underwater! I thought for sure he would be a water baby (forever),” says the Toronto mom of two. Everything changed when he hit preschool age, however. “At four, he took his first swim class without me and was very hesitant. He didn’t like it when the other children splashed and he certainly had no intention of getting his face wet,” recalls Pearce.
Out of Their Depth
Such complaints are fairly common for this age group, say experts. But overcoming them is key. “Every three- to five-year-old should take swimming lessons. It’s a more important life skill than some other sports—it could save their life. It takes 30 seconds for a child to drown; swimming lessons can help prevent this,” says Maryam Mohseni, aquatics coordinator at the YMCA of Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia. But what can you do if your kid refuses to take a dip?
First, relax. Most pool-averse preschoolers overcome their misgivings at their own pace. There are few instances of aquaphobia in children, says Dr. Susan Hunt, a registered psychologist who works with children and adults in Maple Ridge, B.C. “Aquaphobia is an intense fear that would be outside their voluntary control, and a parent would likely notice. Children with a normal fear of swimming say things like ‘I don’t want to go swimming,’ or they may cry, while a child with aquaphobia may have panic attacks around water, which can include excessive crying or tantrums, freezing, clinging and avoiding all pools,” says Hunt. They may or may not also fear bathing. Common pool fears can be conquered and treated, adds Hunt, who recommends aquaphobic children see a psychologist or pediatrician to learn various tools to cope with their fear.
Coping with Complaints
Kids can pick up on a parent’s anxiety around water. So parents should model positive verbal and nonverbal behaviour to their child regarding pool activity, says Hunt. Take your preschooler to the rec centre for family swims (they’re less hectic than open swims) and get in the water together. “Just focus on fun, not skills,” says Hunt. “Don’t push them. Encourage a slow, gradual, positive exposure to water.” Additionally, here are tips for dealing with common fears:
Fear of entering the water
Fear of getting his face wet
Fear of being in deep water
Wade It Out
Pearce’s son, now five, lives for his Friday-night swim class. A cottage getaway last summer sealed the deal. “He experimented with floaty dinosaurs, rings and life jackets and just puttered around in the water. By the third or fourth day, he was doggy paddling around the floating dock,” reports Pearce. “Having a solid week of swimming with no pressure really helped him build his confidence.”