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Oregon Family Magazine

Nanny Connection: Have a Safe Summer

06/01/2009 ● By Anonymous
I am deathly afraid of the water and never learned to swim. I don’t want my kids to grow up the same way but I am also terrified for them to be near water. Please help!

What a wonderful thing to be thinking about as summer approaches! You are not alone in your dilemma. Congratulations for not wanting to pass on your fears on to your children.

Most children seem to come into the world either loving the water or fearing it. The fear does not have to be “inherited” from family members or the result of a traumatic experience though. Water has a different feel… The sensation on our skin, and body as a whole, is different than anything else we experience. In water we are buoyant, which can be freeing or feel like lack of control. Children also can easily pick up on your verbal and non-verbal reactions to water.

The most important thing to accept is, your own relationship with water, as well as your children’s. Do your best not to judge their limitations, and at the same time see if you can expand them. Children will learn in their own way and time, whether math, reading or swimming! Water is known to be healing, and being in water can be therapeutic. Children who enjoy the water often spend hours playing, making up all sorts of games, and most of all using up LOTS of energy!

Water safety is especially important, since children can find themselves around water often - when fishing, boating, camping and with family or friends. The more comfortable (less afraid) they are, the better chance they will not panic and be able to make smart choices should there be an accident. Regardless of whether or not your children get comfortable enough to be in the water, they should know how to be safe around water.

That said exposing infants and young child to water starts with baths. Making bath time relaxing, pleasurable, and fun is a good beginning for them. Parents may choose to take their infants in the shower/bath with them so it becomes a shared experience. Some parents learn on their own that their children are calmer and more relaxed after a bath, and use it to help them relax when they get upset, wound up, or over stimulated. Children who are comfortable in the tub but not the pool, can play in a bath tub of cool water in the summer. Some families even make their hot tub into a “cold tub” during the summer months!

If children are old enough to bathe themselves, close supervision is recommended, as bath tubs can be slippery and children can drown in just a few inches of water. Young children may prefer to begin with a water table (similar to a sand tray/box), which can be a dish pan or sink of warm water. They can get their hands and arms wet playing with kitchen implements as well as water toys, but not immerse their bodies. Adding soap bubbles or food coloring can increase their fun. Setting up a hose, sprinkler, Slip N’ Slide or wading pool are other ways to expose young children to water that may feel safer than being in deeper water. As a precaution, always remember flotation devices, life jackets, and sun screen.

As children grow, swimming lessons are a good next-step. Depending on your comfort level and skill in the water, you may choose to teach them yourself or decide on professional lessons through Parks and Recreation, the YMCA, etc. Once you or your child decide on professional lessons, it is best to keep the commitment, even if your child “doesn’t like it” or “doesn’t feel like it”. This teaches the importance of commitment, trying new things, getting out of their comfort zones, etc.

An advantage of professional lessons is the swimming teacher is trained to deal effectively with reluctant swimmers, and you can enjoy being the proud parent for every success they experience. Even if troublesome at first, it can be very rewarding and empowering for your youngster if you both persevere.

Remember, even if your young child is terrified of the water now, they could grow up to be a Life Guard (it happened to me!). Have a safe and enjoyable summer. Stay cool by or in the water!