Its always interesting for me to observe on the daily, how people's minds and bodies interact to perform (or not perform) a physical task. On this amazing island, whose life stems from the ocean and rains, it can be easy to forget that born deep in our minds is a strong instinct to fear water. Nearly half of the kids I work with each week are children of professional (or close to it) water sports athletes. Even this lucky DNA doesn’t ensure an immediate love for water. Each child is so different in how they approach water, swimming and new challenges in general. At Get Glad Maui, we have a very unique approach to helping kids overcome their fear and master their instincts in and out of the water. Here are three tips on how to help your child overcome a fear or resistance to water.
Grow the Good.
This is an important principle in learning anything that is scary or difficult. Create an environment of small successes. Focus on what is going well. If your child screams when their whole body is in the pool or ocean, celebrate when they put their feet in. If they are afraid of putting their head underwater, celebrate with great enthusiasm, when they put their nose in the water! Step by step, children (and adults) grow their confidence and comfort level, creating a fertile ground for learning to swim.
Kids respond very well to mantras. They don’t have all the mental blocks that adults do, they don’t have stories about who they are and what they can do. When your child faces a difficult or scary situation, its works very well to:
1) Identify the feeling: “This is a very scary thing”. This is an important part of the process, to acknowledge how they feel is the first step in overcoming that fear. Naming the emotion, helps them to look at it and accept it.
2) Give them a short mantra to tell their brain. One of my favorites is: “I am safe, I am strong”. The most important part of this mantra is that they say it with conviction and confidence, even if they don’t feel it at first.
I like to remind kids that they are the ones in charge of their mind. They get to tell it how to behave. A constant reminder from themselves that they are safe and strong is a mandatory factor in facing fears.
It’s important to drop expectations when learning to overcome something like fear. It can be stressful for parents who aren’t always aware of their personal goals for their children. Swim and water safety are very much about mindset and playfulness. When the fear takes over, it becomes very dangerous to swim. The best defence against this fear is to play. Find games, laugh, encourage and be silly. Kids learn how to respond to situations, by watching the people around them. If they have an example of play in the water, then they learn (or re-learn) to also play in the water.
All of these tips add up to an amazing learning environment for teaching swimming. Whether you take your child to classes, or teach them on your own, if your keep it fun, positive and encouraging, your child will begin to face the water with laughter and enjoyment.