How to help your child overcome the fear of water

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference in our community, reported by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE: Peter Lord is among the swim instructors at Alexandria, Virginia’s YMCA location. (Courtesy Peter Lord)

Imagine your family is all ready to head to the pool, the beach or the lake for vacation or a day trip, but you have a child who is afraid of water. He or she cries, screams or runs every time they get near water.

How do you help that child overcome their fears?

Before canceling your plans, consider giving your child swimming lessons.

“Having a safe and a fun environment is usually one of the better ways to help kids get over the fear and enjoy the water instead of being terrified of it,” said Peter Lord, the aquatic director at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington in Alexandria, Virginia.

Lord said part of the way you can improve a kid’s relationship with water is by making learning at the pool or beach a more exciting process.

“We really work on making swimming lessons fun and engaging so that the kids feel comfortable and that they know they are safe,” he told WTOP.

Lord said he’s been swimming since he was 5 years old and teaches kids to respect the water.

Peter Lord teaching a swimmer
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE: Peter Lord is among the swim instructors at Alexandria, Virginia’s YMCA, teaching swimmers of all ages. (Courtesy Peter Lord)

“If you treat water with the respect it’s due, you can be safe in it,” Lord said. “You can have a great time, you can play sports, you can exercise in it.”

But you should do so safely, Lord said, by making sure your kids are not getting in the water without an adult.

“The main thing is always swimming around a lifeguard. Always having a buddy with you, especially if you’re talking about swimming in a lake or ocean that’s not as regulated as a pool,” he said.

The instructor also discouraged buying blue swimsuits for your child, since blue blends into the water, making it very difficult to see where you are. Instead, purchase a red, yellow or orange swimsuit for kids.

Also, on Lord’s list of tips for young swimmers:

  • Do not run on a pool deck
  • Do not dive in water that’s too shallow
  • If you need to help someone, throw in a lifesaving buoy to prevent drowning. Don’t go in after the person, if you can help it
  • Know your confidence and ability level in the water

Lord said now is the best time to start swimming lessons. The YMCA starts swim lessons for children 6 months old or older, but swim lessons are not just for kids.

“We have students in their 80s,” Lord told WTOP.

More information on the YMCA’s swim lessons and other opportunities is available on the organization’s website.

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Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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