Swimming Tips for Anxious Kids

Swimming Tips for Anxious Kids

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!

Aquatic PT Effective for a Variety of Children

In an article in Pediatric Physical Therapy in 2009, researchers found that all four children in a small study displayed significant improvements after completing an aquatic therapy program.  Two children had cerebral palsy, one had Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, and one had Prader-Willi Syndrome.  They were between the ages of 2-19 years and completed varying intensities of aquatic PT.  Several of the children were also recovering from injury or surgery.  Most also attended land-based physical therapy sessions to some extent during the study.  All displayed significant improvement in several areas, such as gross motor skills, range of motion, strength, walking speed, endurance during activity, improvement towards a specific goal, etc.  Not only did the children improve in their function, but their therapists noticed that they had improved attendance and enjoyment during aquatic therapy sessions!  There are many other studies that also show similar improvement for different types of children.  More studies are needed to continue investigating all the benefits of aquatic physical therapy for children.

Aquatic Physical therapy for kids (1)

Take a look at the article here…  http://journals.lww.com/pedpt/Abstract/2009/02110/An_Aquatic_Physical_Therapy_Program_at_a_Pediatric.12.aspx

Fragala-Pinkham M, Dumas H, Barlow C, Pasternak A. An Aquatic Physical Therapy Program at a Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital: A Case Series. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2009;21: 68–78.


The Best Pool Toys to Improve Motor Skills

Pool Toys

Summer is Here!  For many families, that means spending a lot of time at the pool.  The water can be a great place to work on Motor Skills without your child even noticing (sneaky, sneaky)!  Here is a Top 5 list of my favorite pool toys that can help improve your child’s Motor skills.  These toys are FUN and help facilitate improving strength, coordination, balance, or all of the above!  Remember… no toy is safe for your child without close supervision of a trusted adult.

  1. Puddle Jumper– This float is my absolute favorite!  It is coast guard approved as a floatation device, similar to a life jacket.  However, it places young kiddos in much better position to learn beginning swimming skills.  It takes significant core strength to keep upright in the water, so your child will get a core workout the entire time they are swimming with it on.  Young children may need a little practice to become confident while wearing it, but most children are able to get the hang of it after a few trips to the pool.  Hold your child close and firmly at first and then loosen your support as your child becomes more comfortable.  A few great motor skills to practice: kicking a ball while on their tummy or back, spinning in a circle, jumping in at the side of the pool, throwing objects and having your child swim to retrieve them, and beginning practice of back float.Puddle Jumper
  2. Pool Noodles– These are the simplest of toys, but are SO versatile! I don’t know a kid that doesn’t like a pool noodle- plus they are cheap and easy to find!  There are many ways to use a pool noodle to work on Motor Skills.  On land, you can practice stepping or jumping over them.  Sitting on a noodle like a horse or like a chair can work on balance and core strength.  Blowing air through a noodle can work on lung strength and capacity, as well as oral motor strength.  A child can improve their balance by trying to hit targets with the noodle while standing in one place (the noodle will slightly challenge their balance each time they lift it and reach with it).  You can practice running in deep water with a noodle around your waist.  Beginning one leg balance is easy to work on by having the child rest one leg on the noodle and allow it to float up slightly. pool noodles
  3. Diving Toys– There are many fun diving toys in addition to traditional diving rings or sticks.  Torpedoes are always a hit, as well as jewels or sea creatures.  Really, you can use any type of toy as a diving toy as long as it sinks and won’t get damaged by the water.  One favorite is to collect loose change and throw pennies, nickels, and dimes into the water.  Besides the obvious benefit of being able to submerge, hold your breath, and use leg strength to kick down to retrieve an item, diving toys can have other motor uses as well.  Rings are excellent for one leg balance.  Have your child stand on one foot and use the other foot to retrieve the ring and bring it up to the surface.  In shallow water, diving toys could be scattered around to facilitate repeated squatting to standing.  A parent could help their child work on standing balance to reach up and retrieve an object held in different directions.Diving toys
  4. Water Wheels– Water wheels are fun to play with at water tables, in the bathtub, in the sand, AND in the POOL!  Pouring is a great fine motor activity that is easy to do with water wheels.  Just bring along a cup or pitcher and your child will love to pour away!  The larger the pouring container, the more arm and core strength required.  For added strengthening, you can place the water wheel to the side of your child so that they have to rotate their body each time they pour.  You could also work on balance/strength in any position (kneeling, half kneeling, standing, single leg standing, etc) by facilitating this position while your child pours.  Most children will tolerate facilitation for several minutes depending on how hard the position is for them. For oral motor strength and coordination, have your child alternate blowing the wheel around and blowing bubbles in the water.water wheel toy
  5. Beach Ball– Or really any floating ball.  Balls are great for working on hand and eye coordination.  If your child is too young to catch a ball accurately, push the ball back and forth on the surface of the water.  You can make a target with a noodle to practice aim or you can practice balance by having your child use a noodle to try to hit a ball back and forth to you.  A fun core strength activity is to have your child hold a small, buoyant ball and hug it to their body tightly.  Then have your child spin in circles or swim around to work on arm and core strength.  Your child can also work on leg and core strength if you have them reach for a ball with their feet and bring it to their hands while you support them in reclined back float.  A great, exciting way to work on balance, arm and core strength is to have your child stand in waist deep water and push a ball down under the water.  Watch out when they let go!  The ball will go flying!beach ball

There are so many more pool toys that could be used for Motor Skill Development!  Kickboards, goggles, barbells, rafts, flippers, water guns, and so many others are fabulous at facilitating many of the activities described above.  And honestly, it’s hard to go wrong when your child is in the water.  Just being in the water increases sensory input, challenges your child’s balance while simultaneously supporting it, gives resistance to all movement, and offers a great form of aerobic exercise without any joint stress.  What are you waiting for???  Grab your family and head out to the pool today!


Why Aquatic PT?

Is your child burnt out on traditional therapy methods? Do they need a boost to get the the next development level? Are they recovering from surgery and need a buoyant environment to optimize recovery?  Do they have wellness goals that are difficult to accomplish because of joint pain?
Research shows that children who participate in aquatic physical therapy in addition to a good home exercise program or land-based physical therapy improve significantly over children in a land-based program only. Research has also shown that aquatic physical therapy is an effective tool to improve strength, balance, cardiovascular endurance, vital capacity, functional mobility, and participation levels for children with disabilities.
There are many properties of the water that make it an ideal environment to perform physical therapy:
Viscosity– is the “thickness” of water. Moving through water creates more resistance than moving through air, therefore strengthening muscles without increasing stress on joints. The viscosity of water also heightens sensory input to the brain by giving information on body position through total skin contact.
Buoyancy– is an upward force acting opposite of the force of gravity. Buoyancy can be used to make activities easier when moving in the direction of buoyancy or harder when moving down against the buoyancy of the water. Buoyancy also reduces the effects of gravity. When standing in chest deep water, an individual’s body weight is reduced by 75-90% depending on the exact depth.
Turbulence– is the flow or current of the water. Turbulence can gently challenge balance or core stability. It is also useful for increasing circulation and sensory input.
Hydrostatic Pressure– is the natural pressure of the water around the body. It can provide natural relief of joint swelling and can increase the strength of respiratory muscles through breathing in chest or neck deep water.
Thermodynamics– is the way heat is transferred through water. The thermodynamics of water can help reduce tone, relax muscles, and decrease pain.