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Your Child Today: 5 to 8 years

Facing Down Fears

"I don't want to take swimming lessons this year," said my 6-year-old daughter. "They might make me put my face in the water!"

Her dislike for swimming was news to me. She'd seemed so enthusiastic during lessons last year. But sometime during the year, my daughter had become afraid.

While 5 is not typically a fearful age, it is common for kids to become afraid of the water at 6 and 7. By this stage in development, however, most children also have the ability to face and overcome certain fears.

"Your typical 6-year-old is a paradoxical little person. Whatever he does, he does the opposite just as readily," say Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg, co-founders of the Gesell Institute of Human Development, in their book Your Six-Year-Old (Dell).

So even if your child initially objects, consider signing her up for swimming lessons anyway. Maybe it's not the water, but fear of being separated from you in a new situation that triggers your child's anxiety. Calm her by talking about what to expect. Then stay and watch the sessions.

At this age, your child will learn safety in and enjoyment of the water without depending on extra things to wear?like floatation devices, nose plugs or goggles.

Although most instructional programs will introduce swimming skills at this level, they aren't stressed yet. The teacher's initial goal should be to help your child feel comfortable in the water, not pressured or anxious.

If a child does learn a skill?such as how to float?it can be a tremendous boost toward overcoming his fears, according to aquatics specialist Linda Eggebeen. And competence builds confidence. Sports psychologists have found that participation in sports enhances a child's self-esteem and his or her willingness to try new activities. In the early elementary years, learning to achieve in one setting spills over into other areas.

Lessons also prepare young children for school by providing an opportunity for them to practice independence, participate in a formal group and learn to follow rules.

Give your child the tools for overcoming a fear of water in the following ways:

  1. Encourage her to practice putting her face in water at home.
  2. Sign up for lessons later in summer?after he has had time to enjoy the water at his own pace and in a safe, secure, relaxed setting.
  3. Take her to watch the lessons without pressuring her to participate.
  4. Sign him up with a friend.
  5. Guard against communicating any of your own fear of water to your child.
  6. Consider private lessons. Some programs offer sessions specifically for children who fear the water.

You want your child's experience to be a positive one. Warm facilities and water temperatures will make it easier for your child to take that first step toward the water. Look for programs that utilize certified instructors and limit class sizes to no more than eight students.

?Faith Tibbetts McDonald
Writer and mother of three

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