One in 10 infants ‘experience fear of water’


More than one in 10 young children have shown a fear of water, a study suggests.

The survey, by children and baby swimwear specialist Splash About, asked people to say whether a baby or toddler in their care had been scared of water at some point. Only 16% of adults said the children felt confident in water, with almost half (49%) being scared or cautious.

From the age of eight months old, children can suddenly develop a hatred for swimming and a fear of being in the water. This is widely known as the ‘water wobbles’ and can occur even if the infant had previously enjoyed the activity.

Although this development usually fades over time, aquaphobia–the term used to describe a persistent and abnormal fear of water–can often prevent people from learning how to swim if it isn’t addressed.

Aquaphobia can be caused by a range of different triggers, including:

  • Fear of separation from parents
  • Cold temperature of the water
  • Loud surrounding noises

Swimming pools can be a challenging environment for some children. Research revealed that as many as 11.2% of people said their young child was fearful of swimming pools.

Aquaphobia can also develop for no reason at all. When this happens it can be a lot more difficult to overcome.

Bernadette Spofforth, managing director at children and baby swimwear specialist Splash About, says: “If it isn’t already known, parents might find it useful to discover the cause so they can better understand their child’s fear.”

If left unaddressed, a childhood fear of water can cause problems later in life. A previous YouGov study found that up to 27% of people admitted that they cannot swim the length of most British swimming pools (25 metres) unaided.

Bernadette continued: “Knowing the trigger isn’t enough to diminish the phobia but it can help parents know what direction to go in to prevent the fear from being a lifelong issue.”

Once parents have determined the cause and possible triggers for the fear, they can consider the ways in which they can help their child overcome the phobia.

Noël Janis-Norton, a parenting author and founder of calmer parenting, said: “Children don’t want to be afraid of water; they see other children having a really good time, and part of them knows there is really nothing to be frightened of, but they feel like there is.

“I’ve known children who used to scream in terror at the sight of water who are now confident swimmers. A phobia need not be a life sentence. But it does require careful handling.”

Ways in which parents can help a child overcome their fears include:

  • Allowing them to get used to the environment before swimming — let them sit at the side of the pool and observe, this will help them to relax and familiarise with their surroundings.
  • Choose a suitable class — many children can be overwhelmed by a noisy and busy pool. Going to quieter classes or visiting during off-peak times will make them feel more comfortable.
  • Invest in suitable swimwear — float jackets and suits are a great way to make your child feel safe. Choosing a fun swimwear design that they like will also help them feel more enthusiastic about going swimming.

Sally Baker, author, therapist and speaker added: “It’s important to take any pressure off and make all swimming pool visit as enjoyable as possible without cajoling the child to endure anything they’re not ready to do.”

Read the full article to find out some more solutions for helping your child overcome Aquaphobia:

Guest post by Mikaila Storey

Photo by Phalinn Ooi

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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