Summer is coming and for many children, this marks the season of their favorite activity- SWIMMING at the POOL! However, some children may struggle with fear of the water, whether it is getting their face wet, moving independently in the water with a floaty, or swimming in deep water where they can’t touch. Here are some tips for parents who want to help their child be more comfortable in the water and enjoy the pool.
- Start young… If you have the chance, bring your baby/toddler into the pool frequently from a young age to help them get used to the water. Most young children will develop a good comfort level with parental support within 1-2 months of consistent pool visits. Like many things, it often just takes time and frequent exposure to develop comfort.
- Practice in the bath… Bathtime can be a great time to work on basic skills, such as moving independently in and out of the water, blowing bubbles, and practicing positioning on tummy or back. Tolerating small splashes to the face and placing the face in the water can also be good skills to work on in the bathtub. If your child has discomfort in the bathtub as well, you can progress your child from 1) playing in a dry tub, 2) playing with a bucket of water in the tub, 3) sitting in shallow water, and 4) sitting in chest deep water in the tub.
- Develop trust and slowly push your child… It is essential that you never tell your child you will not do something and then do it (ex. Tell them you won’t dunk them or you won’t let go, then do it). Children feel more anxious when they are unsure if they can trust you or not. The most comfortable position for children is being held close with their body facing an adult. Start with this position and slowly increase their independence by facing them away from you, holding them at arm’s length, or leaning their head back onto your shoulder (lying on their back is the scariest position).
- Try a peer… Many children will try more skills with less fuss when they are watching peers. Whether you get siblings involved, bring a cherished friend, or try swimming lessons, getting other children involved often leads to more progress and sooner.
- Consider the environment… If your child has sensory sensitivities, many pools can be overwhelming to them. The bright lights, echo-y sounds, and overcrowded nature of rec center or community pools can overload many children. They may seem disorganized, throw fits, become fearful, or become unable to concentrate in this type of environment. Consider finding a smaller, quieter pool or going during an off time to increase comfort for your child.
- Make it fun… Finally, have fun with your children in the pool. Sing a song, get a special pool toy, bring a friend, or whatever you think would engage your child. Sure, push them a little and encourage them to try new things, but above all, make the water a FUN place for them and the skills will follow.
* Always supervise your children in the water, even after they have developed a good comfort level or are in a floaty—no device or environment is completely safe without the supervision of a parent or trusted adult.
**This post was first used for the March Newsletter of Colorado In Motion (www.coloradoinmotion.com). They provide outstanding clinic-based therapy in FortCollins, CO for a variety of populations!