Going to the swimming pool was a regular part of family life for swimming coach Pablo Garcia and his family. Since his daughter was an infant, Garcia and his wife had taken her to the pool and she excelled at skills and enjoyed the water, even though she was still an infant. But when they couldn't go to the pool for several months, coming back to the water was a whole new experience for everyone. She had lost her water confidence and getting it back turned out to be a slow, delicate process. As a parent and a swim coach, Garcia shares what strategies helped his daughter regain confidence in the water.
1. It’s Very Common
Garcia introduced his daughter to water as a baby and promptly took her to infant swimming lessons. “It was amazing. She was less than a year old and was floating already,” he says. Naturally, it was unexpected when she no lost her water confidence when she was 18 months. Instead, she was glued to Garcia and stopped wanting to practice skills. However, after working with her patiently over the course of 2 years, she gained confidence and fully enjoys the water. Getting your child to a level of safety and confidence isn’t always easy but it’s a very common process and nothing that time and patience can’t fix.
2. Don’t Force, Encourage
It might be frustrating to face your child’s lack of water confidence because it’s more about patience and being encouraging rather than forcing. When it came to coach Garcia’s daughter, it was a “step by step approach,” he says. “She didn’t want to go into the deep water with us or alone—it was a process. We really had to encourage her.” Since she had already been comfortable and enjoyed playing in the water before, Garcia admits it was tempting just to get her back in the water and ignore her apprehension. However, he explains that it’s more important for your child to be comfortable around the water so the “sink or swim” isn’t the best approach.
3. Work Your Way Back to the Water
Getting comfortable around the water can be the first step. “We played a lot with her by the water, just sitting outside the water and playing with toys,” Garcia says. With additional encouragement to play with the water and close to it, Garcia was able to slowly reintroduce the water as something fun. As your child slowly re-enters the water, Garcia says it’s ideal if you’re in the water with them. Not only for safety but to show them it’s safe and also to play with them.
If it’s available, going to a facility that has a kids pool, one that is shallow, smaller and warmer, can be a great asset for this phase. “If they don’t feel comfortable going to a big pool, just stay in a one where they can stand so it's easy for them.”
4. Use Goggles
“When I see kids learning to swim without goggles, it makes no sense,” Garcia says. A lot of children have a fear of putting their face in the water and swimming without goggles can reinforce that tendency, Garcia explains. Using goggles can help children overcome their dislike of putting their face in the water. He recommends introducing goggles outside of the pool first, either at home or in the shower before you swim. He also suggests parents use goggles as well to demonstrate how they are safe and fun. “Going under water and watching their faces is super productive,” he adds.
5. Make it Fun: Skip the Lesson, Go Play
As a swim coach, Garcia had dreams of seeing his toddler actually swimming but dealing with his daughter’s lack of confidence meant putting focused swimming technique practice on the back burner to focus on fun. Skip the skills practice and opt for toys and games to facilitate learning instead. Throw around a ball, play tag, look to see if there are fish under the water, role play, or eventually diving down to get something and jumping in. Playing helps build water skills but the focus should be on creating a positive and fun experience. “It’s still not about swimming, it should be about playing,” Garcia says.
6. Stay Calm: Show Them It’s Ok
Your child will build confidence in water gradually and, inevitably, they will get scared by something so you need to be ready in the water to show them it’s ok. Whether they get splashed in the face, fall down, or let go of a float, you can set the tone of how they react. “Most of the time kids get scared,…depends on the reaction of the parents. There is plenty of time for you to slowly, calmly take the kid and say, okay, no problem, nothing happened, but also watch them constantly. You can't have a kid swimming without watching them.”
7. Get Help to Build Skills
If your child has made progress with their water confidence, keep them on a positive trajectory by working with a qualified swimming instructor or coach. Not only will a coach or instructor be able to help progress your child’s skills but most parents will understand that sometimes kids are more open to someone who is just not them. “If she goes to the swimming course with the teacher, she does what he says,” Garcia laughs, explaining that isn’t the case with him. Your child might be more willing to take encouragement and instruction from a swimming coach. If your child is still tentative, a one-on-one lesson might be a great progression. A swim play group or a kids class can help with the final phase of becoming water safe and confident.
8. Lifestyle: Show Your Child Water is Part of Life
“Water is part of life,” Garcia says. To show your child that water is a positive part of life, make it part of your lifestyle. “On the weekends, we go to the pool or the beach. When it rains, it’s automatic we go to the pool. It’s part of our life, 100%.” Garcia says they also talk about water and swimming at home and, if your child is taking lessons, he recommends staying after to play with your child in the water “so it’s not just going there for class but also having fun.” Even with busy work schedules, making water a constant part of their family routine—at least once per week—helped change his daughter's experience of the water into a happy one.