How to Help Your Child with their Fear of the Water

Welcome to this week’s article, How to Help your Child with their Fear of Water! This article is for all the parents dealing with a child with a fear of the water!

I think there are a lot of parents out there who are really going to appreciate this article because it is something that I am constantly running into as a swimming instructor. Parents asking me how to cure swimming anxiety.

There are a lot of parents out there who are doing all of the right things for their children. They sign up their kids for soccer to stay active, they take them to all of their doctor appointments, and sometimes they even sign them up for some swimming lessons at the local pool. And when they do this, some parents run into a new issue: Their child is absolutely terrified of going anywhere near the water.

I have some advice for you, whatever age group your child might be in.  You can’t try the same thing for a 6 year old as your 12 year old almost teenager. And if your child really never got into swimming lessons as a child but now wants to learn as a teen, there are some unique challenges you will face as well. So let’s start with the easiest age group to deal with…

Ages 0 – 8:

I believe that you can help children in this age group very, very easily get over their fears of the water. Kids in this age group are the most impressionable and your efforts to help them make swimming an enjoyable experience rather than a stressful one will be accepted the easiest. A child with a fear of the water is easy to turn into a child with no fears of the water whatsoever.

First what I will say is this. The earlier that you can get your child into the water, the better. I have taught hundreds of kids to swim. And there were the normal kids who signed up when they were 6 and there were also kids who were brought into parent and “tot” or baby classes. Something I have noticed over the years in almost 100% of the cases, the kids who attended baby classes are were not only better swimmers but also more comfortable in the water when they were older.

Why is this? I’m sure some super smart child development specialist could give you a very scientific answer to this question, but I have my own answer to it. And it lies in the psychological concept of ANCHORING.


What is anchoring? It is when you associate an emotion or feeling to a particular activity or stimulus. It is why some people become sad whenever they smell incense. People quite often burn incense at funerals where people are sad. Therefore the smell of incense may cause certain people to become sad even if they smell it outside of a funeral setting.

The reason that kids learn to speak, walk, and all the other things they do is because us adults reward our kids with praise when they do something we like.

“Did you just say “Dad”? Oh my god! Honey, he just said Dad!!! Wooooo!”

That praise makes the child happy and he/ she begins to associate the thing they just did to being happy. We have anchored this feeling of “I just did something good” to the saying of the word Dad. And that is how the learning process happens for young children. They say a word, they get praise.

So what does this mean for swimming and our child with a fear of the water?

If we have a child who is scared of the water, they are obviously focussing on the water in a negative way. Every moment that the child stays scared of the water and stays focussed on how scared he/ she is, the more ingrained in their psyche will this fear be.

Turning it around:

So to turn this around, we need to start getting excited for them when they accomplish things in the water. Whenever they get into the water, we should get excited about that for them. Whenever they jump into the pool by themselves, let’s get really excited for them. Let’s let our positivity bleed off on them so that they begin to anchor swimming and success in the water to happiness and excitement rather than stress.

We need to make the entire swimming thing a positive environment for the child, or they will not be able to anchor any positive emotions to it. They will decide on their own that it is too scary and that they won’t want to do it. We can’t allow them to decide this if we want them to succeed in the water.

So here are some things to try:

  1. Every little thing that your kid does well in the water, congratulate it and do it in a way that is slightly over the top. The same way you freaked out when your child said their first word.
  2. Take your child swimming yourself if your swimming instructor isn’t making the necessary impact that your kid needs. You should take your child’s development seriously and get involved. Take them for the Sunday swim. Your natural parenting will help your child over their fear of the water when they see you in the water too!

Ages 14-18:

Now, this is the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of a young kid or baby, we are going to take the different approach.

Communicate with your child. Talk with them. Build rapport with them and ask how they are feeling about the water. Get the reasons why they are scared of the water out in the open so that you can address them and beat them together.

If your child is a teenager and has a very real fear of the water, they will have to come to terms with their fear and beat it on their own for the most part. You may be able to support them, but they will need to accept responsibility on their own.

They need to realize that this is something they are capable of accomplishing and they will be able to do it. However, your parenting will not be able to “fix” anything unless they put in the effort as well. They are going to need to take a bit of time in the pool to relax and learn the proper skills. They are going to have to face their own fear.

Not what you were expecting?

This might not be what you want to hear. If you have a child with a fear of the water, it can be a difficult thing to watch. You may want to try and fix it for them. But they are rapidly approaching adult hood and are going to need to handle this problem on their own. They can’t have their parents solving their problems for them!

But what you can do is be there for them. Encourage them still. Tell them they are doing a great job. And tell them that if it is something that they truly want to accomplish, you will be there for them.

So here are some things to try:

  1. Work on your relationship with your child. Be that person who your child can still look up to and ask for help from.
  2. Offer, if they want to accept it, to pay for a set of swimming lessons for them. And don’t take it personally if it’s something that they just can’t deal with just quite yet.
  3. Kids at this age are usually using their intellectual brain A LOT more than younger kids. So try explaining why they are sinking

If you want some of the reasons why people sink, check out this article below:

Why do we sink while swimming?

Ages 8-14:

This group is going to be a mixture of the teen advice and the younger kid advice. Depending on the maturity of your child, they just might not like the idea of turning their time in a pool into a game. They may need to talk about it seriously with you and think about it logically. They may need to address their feelings by talking about it with you, just like the teenager group.

Or they may still be young enough for you to take control of the situation and build the swimming pool environment into a fun place for play and other adventures!

So this age group can be the most difficult. And it requires you to use your natural parenting skills to decide how your child with a fear of the water can overcome it and what kind of support they truly need.

Emotional Support?

Or Anchoring Fun and games to the situation?

If you enjoyed this weeks article, hit me up in the comment section below!


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