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Alyson Schafer

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What to Do When Your Kid Is Afraid of the Water

Posted: 08/02/11 03:23 PM ET

Some children fear the water. This fear is very real. But children are not born with fears. In my opinion. fears are developed when a child's healthy and natural reluctance is responded to by an over-reacting, well-intentioned parent.

A child comes into this world knowing little of how it works. As they explore, they encounter things that shock or surprise them. Their reaction is to be startled, not afraid. Parents often over-compensate by; reassuring that everything is okay, giving the child special attention, soothing with excessive expressions of concern, or cajoling.

The next time the child encounters a new situation (such as water), they are faced with three choices:

• Look to the adults to see what they are doing and follow their lead (face the challenge),
• Retreat or withdraw from the new experience (avoid the challenge) or,
• Control the situation with fear, thereby paralyzing themselves and gaining parental involvement (get others to deal with the challenge).
The benefit of grooming our children to face small challenges is that they develop the psychological muscle to deal with greater challenges in the future. With each success they learn they are capable and further believe they can handle more.

As parents we want to prepare our children for life, not protect them. So, this summer when your tots scream as you lift them up over the dark waters of the lake, keep my suggestions in mind:

• Don't minimize the reality of their fear ("Oh come on, it's just like the pool, don't be silly.")
• Don't be overly impressed with their fears ("Oh honey, I'm sorry, let me get you a freezie. Let mommy wipe your tears.")
• Don't over emphasize re-assurances ("It's just water, it's okay, your safe, mommy has you, nothing will happen.")
• Don't expect your child to be fearful of the water, as children will live up to our expectations!
• Don't be a slave to their fear. If they only go in the water "their way" and "their way" involves paralysing you, you are actually supporting their belief.
• Do be unimpressed ("That's okay. If you don't like the water you don't have to go in")
• Do continue having a good time yourself. The best way to grow an interest in swimming is to be a swimmer yourself.
• Do have faith and show encouragement ("I am sure that one day you may decide you'd like to be swimming in the lake so much you won't let your fear stop you.")

Enjoy the water!