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Learning to swim can be a fun yet terrifying venture for new swimmers. Some children are completely comfortable in water from the first time their toes hit the water, while others are equally as anxious. Beginning swim lessons first requires a comfort with the water, but getting to that point can be a challenging barrier for many children and parents. The reasons children fear the water can be based on several factors, but often the approach parents and coaches take towards introducing their children to the water can dramatically improve the experience they associate with swim lessons.
 
Why is my child afraid of the water?
 
As mentioned, there can be several reasons your child is afraid of the water. Younger toddlers and babies may be uncomfortable with the water temperature. They could be hungry or tired. They may also be confused and feel powerless when first introduced to the water, uncertain of what is next.  Older children may recall a specific event they experienced or heard of involving a poorly managed water situation. Anxiety could also be related to a lack of experience around water or growing up in an environment that limited water play.
 
How can I help my child not be afraid in the water?
 
Parents and coaches can help by being sensitive to how children are expressing themselves, while using reassuring and comfortable techniques when handling them in the water. While children are resilient to many things, they are also acutely aware of what adults say and can easily pick up on non-verbal cues. Be aware of how you talk about the water and swimming around your children, as well as your facial expressions. Try not to demonstrate your fear of the water and say only positive things about swimming.
 
Build upon non-threatening water activities slowly in a logical sequence to help promote confidence. Schedule regular, consistent playtime in the water and make sure all water environments and play are secure and safe. If an incident in the water should occur, treat the situation with concern but not in a way to cause alarm.  
 
Will water lessons “drown-proof” my child?
 
Parent should be very cautious about believing their child is “drown-proof” after taking swim lessons, regardless of their age. The American Academy of Pediatrics initially advised for parents to wait until their child was at least 4 years of age to begin swim lessons on the premise that parents would be less vigilant with their children around water. Today, they recommend parents decide on an individual basis when to enroll their children in swim lessons based on several factors, including exposure to water, emotional development and physical abilities.
 
While no swim lessons “drown-proof” children, statistics show the rates of drowning are decreasing from 2.68 per 100,000 in 1985 to 1.32 per 100,000 in 2006. However, drowning remains a leading cause of death for children, with toddlers and teenage boys at the greatest risk.
 
What can I do make swim lessons a better experience for my child?
 
Children pick up what parents say and how they act. Parents can positively reinforce the progress children are making at their swim lessons by acknowledging their progress and being very positive about that progress. Try not to compare children. While it is easy to use your older child’s experience with learning to swim as a reference, child learn at different rates. Being compared to an older sibling may inhibit their progress and create negative feelings about swimming. Use affirmative words like “Here we go” instead of “Are you ready?” This helps avoid opportunities for the child back out of their commitment to the lessons. Be patient. Allow your children to learn to swim at a pace that is appropriate for their age, emotional maturity, physical abilities and experience in the water.

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