Fear of water: How can you help your child overcome the fear and jump into the water?
The child is not afraid of water, but is afraid of diving and having his/her face in the water! Why is this happening? It is a question parents often make when they bring a child to swim.
There are various reasons for this. Sometimes it may be a previous unpleasant experience, sometimes there is the fear of the unknown and the new, and quite often it is a combination of the fear of water that causes short and irregular breathing, so the child finds it difficult to put his/her face in the water or dive, because he/she doesn't feel comfortable.
There are always some general pedagogical and psychological guidelines for overcoming the fear of water and diving. But if you don’t take a look at the child in the eyes, you will never know which approach is the right one for him or her. A child who is afraid of water or diving needs to have an individual approach with a swimming coach.
Are there any specific exercises for children who are really, really afraid of diving and being underwater?
You know what helps in such situations?
A mirror. I use it often in the water.
Why? Because when children look at it down there, they will not see the depth and the unknown blue, but their own face ... Then, I like to fool around with them, I make funny faces while we are looking in the mirror placed just below the water surface ...
Once the child feels relaxed enough, we gradually immerse the nose, the chin, and then other parts of the face. The mirror is still there. I put toys on the bottom of the pool and we start to "fish" using our hands and feet ... I count to three and dive in, trying to catch a fish from the bottom of the pool together ... You should always, always have in mind that it is important for children beginners to announce every next step you will make in the water, especially when diving. That's why we count to three, because in that way we show them that we are going to go face down under the water. We are doing something already known to them. What usually helps is allowing them, or even suggesting, to hug you tightly, and while doing so they get even more assured that you won’t leave them under the water on their own.
Of course, at the beginning, it all seems like an impossible mission, and the process of getting relaxed in the water can take a while, however I always manage to go underwater with the children by using games, at least for only a few seconds. When children emerge to the surface, I let them do it on their own and feel free to move underwater. Trust me, in the end there are no tears, only a smile on their face. Excitement and euphoria are always much stronger than the previous bad experience. Confidence in the person in the water and feeling safe in the aquatic environment will beat the fear they felt at the beginning.
Also, apart from mirrors, I often get various popular cartoon characters printed and plasticized on the A4 format, and I ask the children to dive in, find and grab their favourite cartoon character.
Then, there are always some sinkers you can use, of the most beautiful flashy colours, sharks, circles, fish, octopuses, seals, sticks… which can be a great motive for a child to dive and reach for them underwater, especially if we promise that they will be able to play with them if they manage to reach them first!
What matters most to children and also adults when it comes to the fear of water, or the unknown depths, is the motive – the MOTIVE is always the key.
The motive, yes!
Why would a child go underwater at all? When you find that link between the fear and the water, everything is much easier. Of course, children and their fears are different, as well as their motives and interests. Therefore, the approach and exercises in the water should be adapted to the child. It’s not a rocket science. You just need patience, trust and the right motive, which is easily found with a game.
Another key thing before diving is teaching the child how to breathe properly in the water!
Yes. It is important to learn how to hold a breath first, and then how to make bubbles through the mouth and then through the nose. This will relax the child and make him or her dive with no fear. This should all be done gradually while playing at the same time and doing some exercises. Proper breathing in the water will definitely make it easier for a child to master swimming techniques later.