My three year old used to love swimming- she was a little hesitant at first and then we went every week and she loved being in the water. It was a joy to see her little face as kicked her little legs and splashed us once she learned how funny it was to wet mummy and daddy. Then lockdown hit- she was unable to go for what turned out to be half of her life and now she is terrified of the ‘giant bathtub’.

Dr. Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and founder of The Good Play Guide says 'Some psychologists believe that children have what's called a "comfort zone" (what they can already do) and a "zone of proximal development" (what they can learn with support). These can change on a daily basis due to life events - for example, children might regress into younger habits when they start school - or even smaller things like being hungry or tired.'

The pandemic can be seen as one of those life events that may have "shrunk" the comfort zone for some children. This means the skills that used to be in their "comfort zone" are now in their "zone of proximal development", or are even out of reach at the moment. As a result, children may feel less confident. 

Perhaps your child has always had a fear of the pool, or maybe like my daughter, lockdown has knocked their confidence. Either way, here are a few things I’ve found to help ease them back into being a waterbaby once more. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Toys: Whether you use the ones as your local pool or take your own- pool toys act as a great distraction and can be played with in the shallow part of the pool as well as the deeper end, so if they just want to sit on the side and dangle their legs in while playing with a toy, this can make them feel more at ease in the unfamiliar environment. Avoid ones that sink, however as this might exacerbate their fear because they won’t want to dive to get them and feel worried about you leaving them to get it yourself. 

Dr. Gummer suggests that 'learning through play is a good way to allow differentiation, to help progress skills whatever a child's ability is. For example, throw a ball in the pool and get them to swim to it a few times. Then have them swim back again with the ball and throw it to different places. For an extra challenge, get them to do it as fast as they can and see if they can beat their time. Encouraging skills in a playful way can help children build their confidence back up too, with less pressure to get things right. This can be done by turning it into a game. For example, playing catch in a swimming pool to build confidence moving around in the water.' 

Friends and family: If you can go with siblings, other younger members of the family or with a friend who has a young child who loves to swim, this can help coax them into the water if they see that there is no threat to the other child. They will instinctively want to join in with any games or fun they are having so if you can buddy up, do so! It also helps to go when it is busier so they can see lots of little boys and girls enjoying swim time. Heading to the leisure centre when the pool is nearly empty will only make the space look bigger and more daunting. 

Exciting swimming attire: Make sure that their trunks or costume, beach towel, toys, armbands and goggles are all something to get excited about wearing. Try purchasing or borrowing things with familiar characters on them and bright colours so they will feel encouraged to play with/wear them. We purchased our daughter some bright pink goggles, arm bands, a towel with the Little Mermaid on and a costume with Minnie Mouse on the front and she wanted to put them one right away. 

Incentives: Whatever your child is driven by- you might like to use this as a means of giving them something to look forward to once it’s all over. For instance- ‘if you swim for 15 minutes, we can go and get an ice cream or toy afterwards’. Children drive a hard bargain and if they have to do something they don’t want to, they often demand something they do in return. Pick your battles and if it takes a little bit of something they like to edge them closer to the next stage it’s well worth it. For my little one, Kinder bars work a treat! 

Praise: For every little milestone, make sure that you congratulate them, while they are in the pool and afterwards to keep the momentum going. Children thrive on positive reinforcement so tell grandparents and others who were absent at the time of their achievement and this will give them the boost to do it again. If you plan on going often, give it a little mention each day until the next time you go so they can ride the wave and mentally prepare for the next time you go.  

Set the example: If you have a genuine fear of the water, it might be best to let someone else take them while you watch over them. Children are experts in detecting unease in others and if you show signs of anxiousness, they will surely pick up on it and want to go in the water even less. On the other hand if you are a keen swimmer or simply enjoy the experience of being in the water, do everything first to show them that there is nothing to worry about. Be the litmus test as it were and assure them at every turn that you would never put them in harm’s way. 

Don’t focus on the negatives: If you spent 45 minutes trying to get them in the water and only 15 minutes actually in the water- focus on the highlights not the struggles. The aim is to try and replace any bad feelings with positive memories so try and put any outbursts to one side and hone in on the successful elements of your time in the water.  

The more you do it- the easier it will become as they learn that swimming can be lots of fun and not something to lose sleep over. So persevere even if other parents look on or your child refuses to get in the water for the majority of the session- each time you are a little bit closer to your goal and that’s all that counts.  

MORE: Seven reasons to take your baby swimming

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