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.