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Fear of Swimming/Pool

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Toddlers > Fear of Swimming/Pool

5-year-old refuses to get her face wet

Feb 2004

Our daughter has been taking swimming lessons pretty consistently for about a year now and is making no progress. She started at the Y as a pike and moved right up to eels the next session, but there she stays. In fact, the teachers think she should go back to pikes now bc she won't even do the minimum anymore that the class expects, i.e. putting her face in the water, floating with help... She doesn't put up a big fight about it and she's always quite happy to go to swim class, she just refuses to take any risks, esp. with getting her face and eyes wet. We tried goggles but she didn't like those. We tried lessons at the King pool during the summer, but she was just as reluctant there.

This doesn't seem like something to just give up on -- if it were gymnastics or soccer or something like that, we'd say fine, she can live without it, why push? But this is water safety, and it seems like a skill she needs to have.

We're about to try a private lesson to see if a little less noise and commotion might help, but she won't even let water on her face in the tub, so I'm doubtful that it will make a difference. Please share your thoughts and experience on this one. elisabeth

Our daughter was exactly like this! We tried all different sorts of swimming lessons, even driving all the way over to that school up in El Sobrante that's supposed to be so good. She enjoyed lessons but just refused to progress.

Then one day just before her 7th birthday we were at a hotel with a pool. She got in with her dad and decided to put her face in the water and try to swim. He helped her a little and she actually made a few strokes. She was really excited and we gave her a lot of encouragement. When we got home we signed her up for swimming lessons at the local pool. The training wasn't the greatest but she made fabulous progress, and a year later she was swimming at an advanced level.

I guess it's just another of those things where the child has to be ready and *they* have to decide to do it. When your daughter is ready she'll learn to swim. In the meantime, don't sweat it.

The same thing happened with my son. He would take a couple of sessions of swim classes at the Y each year but never even progressed beyond pikes because he would not put his face in the water. He seemed to like the classes, though. Then last spring, when he was six, he started in the lowest level of classes for older kids, and suddenly overcame his fear and started to learn to swim. For him, goggles were the key, but I don't think they would necessarily have worked when he was five. I think he just was ready. Jennifer N
I was about the same age when my parents put me in swim classes, which I, too, loved, but in which I was afraid in the same way. I think the greatest risk is that your daughter will detect your frustration and irritation; after all these years, I still recall my father's reactions to my fear. You might simply have to wait until she's old enough to recognize her fear for what it is, and to intellectually see her way through it. By the time I was about 14, I took classes -- for the 4th time in my life. At that age, I was able to work beyond my fear, and quickly became a strong swimmer, and even became one of the youngest kids in junior lifesaving. late swimmer
Do you know if your daughter had a bad experience with one of her swim teachers? I have vivid memories of being a rather timid seven- year-old, taking swim lessons, and having the teacher expect us all to jump feet first into the deep end. When I wouldn't, he made fun of me in front of the other students. Needless to say, I wanted nothing to do with the water for quite a long time. It took a couple of hours, one on one, with a very gentle, understanding, non-pressuring swim coach before I would even consider putting my face in the water again. Karen
No real advice here, except to be patient and persistent. My then-5 year old also was timid about putting his face in the water, and was reluctant to even venture forth from the wall during Y lessons for many sessions. His breakthrough occurred last summer when he suddenly realized how much fun it was to be underwater, and now at age 6 he is completely comfortable in the water. Daily lessons at the King pool and swimming at Camp Tuolomne seemed to do the trick. Being able to touch bottom was a big help. Goggles helped a lot, so keep that open as an option, even though she is not interested now. It might help if you can arrange time in a pool outside of structured lessons. Vacations at a place with a swimming hole or a motel pool? Bring some diving sticks or rings, and have her retrieve them, starting with shallow areas like the pool steps. swimmer's dad

21-month-old loves baths, hates getting splashed


Wondering if anyone has experience helping their toddler overcome a fear of swimming--or rather, fear of being in a swimming pool. My 21-month-old loves taking a bath, but doesn't like the splashing that comes from being in a pool with even one other child. Last summer was her first experience being in a pool, and from the very beginning she made it clear she didn't like it. We took her first to Strawberry Canyon, and it was way too active for her. So then we tried the small backyard pool, thinking a more controlled environment would be easier to handle, but she didn't want to get in. Now the summer is rolling around and we've gotten the first sign that not much has changed over the interim period. On one of the hot days last week her childcare provider brought out a bunch of pools for the kids to cool off in, but our daughter Toni wouldn't have it. The teachers even made the water warmer, more like a bath, but Toni appeared to be afraid of being splashed. We don't want to push anything, she'll probably outgrow this if we leave her alone, but I'm wondering if there's anything we can do to show her how much fun she can have, and to encourage a love of the water.

Fear of swimming. A fear of splashing sounds like something that your daughter is just going to have to grow out of. My son developed a mild fear of large bodies of water used for swimming (no problem with a bath) when he was almost 2. On advice of a friend I enrolled him in the downtown Berkeley YMCA's water acclimation class for kids 6 mos-3 years old. Obviously this involves a parent being with the kid at all times. The first time we went he was quite scared and I held him barely touching the water most of the time, but just at the end he discovered how much fun it was to jump in and have me catch him. After that he had no problems being in the swimming pool and we even signed up for a second session, just to have fun. Good luck! Dianna
I am afraid I don't have any quick fixes. Our own experience was that our son, now five, was also afraid of water in his face. As a baby, he would become very upset when one of us would take him into the shower, presumably because he didn't like the water splashing on his face. He did, however, enjoy piddling around in the baby pool and in the tub. But recreational swimming in a real pool was not of interest to him at all. He would cry and act terrified. Finally, last summer he seemed to overcome everything. I credit his swimming teacher. She was an older, grandma-type, who was very firm but not at all scary. She was quite experienced and scared students were old hat for her. I made sure my son knew that I trusted her and that the lessons were a fun privilege. Before one week of lessons was over, he had mastered a few skills and was much more relaxed. I think it had something to do with the fact that unlike I, the instructor did not become alarmed when he expressed fear. I guess children know when we are worried and/or frustrated even when we try to fake it. Good luck.
My parents, brothers and sister were all good swimmers and my three children are all good swimmers, however I have been absolutely petrified of water my entire life and see absolutely nothing appealing about swimming. Every summer my parents sent me to swimming lessons as they thought I would learn to love it like they did. That was not the case, in fact I would try to get out of these lessons which I never succeeded at doing. I am now in my 50's and things have not changed, so there are some of us that unfortunately never get over the fear.
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