DadTalk Opens Swim School for 2

A few months after Seth was born, my wife insisted that I be the one to give him baths. Anne simply couldn’t cope with our son’s abject fear of water. I don’t mean your normal, garden variety fear, but top-of-his-lungs screaming. (Water fear runs strong in both parents’ families.)

The worst reaction usually came about when even the slightest drop of water slid down the side of his face, usually when washing his hair. My boy equally freaked out if a single H2O molecule entered an ear.

Within a few days of my taking over bathing duties, Seth calmed down enough to tolerate baths. A few weeks later, Seth kind of enjoyed baths. Within a few more weeks, Seth loved baths to the point I couldn’t get him out of the water. My boy was fine as long as the water stayed away from his face.

Soon, I was taking Seth to our community pool in California. He both loved the pool and feared it. Most importantly, he demanded water stay away from his eyes.

Then we moved to Chicago, where for two years, we did not have easy access to pools. In fact, the only time my kids got into a pool was when we traveled. The kids loved to play in the water, but both resisted getting their faces wet. (I suspect Lael’s fear partly came from Seth.)

When we arrived in Arizona last summer, we promptly signed the kids up for swimming. Unbelievably, Seth graduated two levels of swim classes without ever putting his face in the water. Lael, who was having separation issues after our big move, refused to take her class at all.

As the weather cooled, we took a break from swimming classes. This spring, I signed Seth up for another class. A few weeks in, Seth’s muscular young swim instructor walked up to me and said, “Your son is having a lot of trouble swimming. He won’t put his face in the water. He should be in a lower level class.”

“You think?” I said. I had been watching Seth’s repeated meltdowns from the cabana area of the city pool. “I tried putting him in the lower level, put the Park District wouldn’t let me. Your computers say he’s too old.”

After some more discussion, the young man said he would keep working with Seth. To his credit, Seth actually put his face in the water a few times by the end of the course. Lael meanwhile received some swim instructions via her preschool.

Unfortunately, sign-up time for the next season of swimming happened to be a day or two after Seth was seriously burned by soup. Since it wasn’t clear when my boy would be allowed back into the water, I decided to not sign up. Now that Seth has the green light, all of the classes are full.

So last week, frustrated that yet another swim-less year was about to be lost, I opened DadTalk’s School of Swimming.

I started out by offering chocolate to the kids if they would just put their faces in the water. Look, I don’t believe in using food or candy as a motivational tool, but since drowning is a much bigger concern than tooth rot, I decided it was worth it this one time. Voila, both kids dipped their faces into the chlorinated water.

From there, the kids practiced swimming in place, kicking, using their arms and jumping to me from the side. My first priority was to make the whole thing fun. The second goal was to instill water confidence backed up by skills.

Seth is progressing slowly, but surely. His confidence is growing and I think he’ll be swimming underwater in a few weeks. Sure, he still runs full blast back to the towel each time he gets his face wet, but at least he’s doing it. Next goal is to get him underwater with his eyes open. (Or with goggles.)

As for Lael? Well, yesterday she let go of the side and slipped under. “Good job!” I said after rescuing her. She smiled and proceeded to spend the rest of the day sticking her face completely under water. I suspect she’ll be swimming underwater within a few days.

4 thoughts on “DadTalk Opens Swim School for 2

  1. Rayne of Terror

    Henry had the same fear of water in his face until two days ago. We got him a big pair of goggles that covers eyes and nose and he dipped his head in the pool and bath water to try it out. He also took a shower for the first time with goggles. Then during his second shower he took the goggles off on his own initiative and discovered a shower was better without goggles. It was stunning to us after 4 years of crying over hair washings to have him singing and dancing and GARGLING with the water going directly ON HIS FACE in the shower.

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  2. brettdl

    We did the goggle thing, too, but it didn’t work. I think the only thing that really worked was him getting older and a sense of competition with his sister.
    On hair, I worked out a system that kept the crises to a minimum.

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  3. Summer

    I have a fear of water, especially large bodies of water I can’t see very far down in. Pools don’t bother me, but lakes do, and I refuse to get in the ocean.
    I also am an excellent swimmer. My parents put me in swimming lessons too and much to the irritation of many, many swim instructors, I refused to put my face in the water properly. BUT I felt like swim lessons were a win for me because while I was scared of drowning, being a capable swimmer makes the water less daunting.
    Now, at 28, I’m starting to train for triathlons. Which means I really need to learn how to do this breathing thing. (I can do a mean wall turn, but I couldn’t swim with my face in properly…) So I am taking swim lessons from a friend who teaches kids. I, for the first time ever, swam the whole length of the pool, goggles on, breathing properly.
    What helps me is the science of it and an awareness that the awful tight pressure feeling I get in my chest is all in my head and not b/c of the water. If Seth wants to get past his fear one day, he will.
    Being empowered by my mother, and then by my continued lessons at Girl Scout camp, allowed me to become a great swimmer – which helps a lot. At least I have some control over my relationship with the water. You can never beat the water, but you can work with it.
    I’ll let you know how it goes when I do a practice swims in the lake this summer. I’m nervous, but determined.
    Good luck w/ Seth. 🙂

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  4. brettdl

    Thanks for sharing!
    BTW, I had a fear of water until I was about 7 or so, when a great instructor finally got me to put my face in the water. After that, I was totally fearless.
    I think it’s great that you’re doing triathlons!

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