Family

Help! My kids are afraid of the water

Addyson and Peyton are about to start swimming lessons, and Lisa van de Geyn's trying not to expect the worst.

1FearOfWater-December2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent contributor Lisa van de Geyn weighs in on parenting issues and life with her two young daughters. Stay tuned for occasional posts from her husband Peter as he shares parenting stories from his point on view.

Plenty has been going on over here in the last month. I turned 34, Hanukkah came and went, Addyson got a fantastic report card (as fantastic as it can be in senior kindergarten), Peyton pooped on the toilet (once, and hasn’t done it again since) and Peter stopped drinking Coke. The latter is a huge deal.

I also, kind of reluctantly/kind of excitedly, signed the girls up for swimming lessons — they start in January.

I’m excited for obvious reasons — kids need to learn how to swim. Peter’s dad has a lovely pool that we’d frequent more often if the girls wouldn’t act like scaredy-cats when we’re there. They ask, beg, whine about wanting to swim at Opa and Nonna’s house, then freak out when it’s time to get in — even when they’re wearing a combination of water wings, life jackets and they’re in floating tubes. They’ve gone in, but only when holding either me or Peter in a death grip. I’d also like them to learn a little about being in the water, because we booked our first-ever family vacation (three nights; details to come), and it will be much more fun for everyone if they’re comfortable in the waves. (It will be much more fun for me if I’m comfortable in my swimsuit by then, too. But I digress.) Last but not least, Addy’s little friend L and her little sister A are signed up in the same class. In fact, in our town, the ratio of students to teachers is 4:1, so Addy, Peyps, L and A will be the only tots in their class, which I’m hoping will be a huge bonus.

I’m reluctant for obvious reasons — I’m terrified my kids are going to freak out, throw a fit, bawl their eyes out until I leave the parent-viewing area and get them out of the wee pool. I could play the “What if?” game all day. I’m worried Addy will lose it, even though her friend will be with her. And I’m worried Peyton will end up losing it, because she’ll see her sister panic. What if Addy’s OK, but L starts screaming? Of course, I could be totally shocked and they could both love it — at which time I’ll happily proclaim how stupidly wrong I was to be concerned in the first place.

Read more: Anxiety disorders in children >

I’ve written about being afraid of the water for Today’s Parent, so I’ve spoken to experts about this topic before. I know it’s normal for kids to be afraid, and I know pushing them isn’t recommended. I remember when my parents put us into swimming lessons (we didn’t do the whole mom-and-tot thing back then, and I never did it with my kids, though my nearly one-year-old nephew has already had swimming class) way back when I was probably the same age that Addyson is now. At that time, the pool was outdoors. I vividly recall being scared s&%$#*@ as we were marched out from the change rooms. It was freezing (though it was obviously summer) and I saw my mom in the stands. I have no recollection as to what happened next, but I’m almost positive I started crying.

I know that both of my kids are extremely perceptive, and if they so much as sniff the fear and worry on me, that’s the ballgame. I’ve been doing a bang-up job so far of talking up the class — made a big deal about how L and A’s mom and I met at the centre, we signed them up, everyone clapped, etc. Knowing me, I’ll woo them with new bathing suits just before that first class.

Here’s what I need to know: What can I do to get them so pumped up about taking swim lessons that they’re too excited to freak out? I know this is a universal topic for parents, so I’m hoping to get some good advice to calm both their nerves, and mine.