Goggles can help ease your child's fears.

Getting a Toddler to Go Underwater

by Maggie McCormick

"Back in my day, we learned to swim when our parents just threw us in the water." So goes the story from some of the older members of your family. When it comes to your own child, though, you might be more cautious. Putting her face near -- and into -- the water can terrify a toddler. Keeping her safe as she does it will encourage her to be more daring.

Shallow Water

One of the scariest parts of going underwater is the fear of not being able to find the top again. When your child is submerged, she might not know which way is up. If you suspect that this is the problem, see whether she'll be more comfortable putting her face in the water when she's in the bath tub or a kiddie pool. The more she does this, the more ready she'll be when she hits the big pool.


Another way to encourage your child to go underwater is to play games. Blowing bubbles and retrieving toys from the steps are two activities suggested by the University of Florida Interactive Media Lab. To blow bubbles, show your child how you can put your mouth in the water and blow bubbles. Because it's fun, she'll want to do the same. Playing on the steps of the pool can make your little scaredy-cat feel safe because she can always reach the bottom. Put toys on the steps that she has to reach down to retrieve. The deeper you go on the steps, the deeper she'll have to reach, until she's putting her head underwater.

Tools of the Trade

If she's tried it before and had a bad experience, two fears might be stopping her from doing it again: getting water up her nose and water in her eyes. They can hurt. Getting her to go underwater might be as simple as buying a pair of goggles -- go with themed ones to get her extra excited -- and nose plugs.

Calling in the Professionals

You're not a trained swimming teacher and you learned to swim so long ago that you don't even remember how you did it. If you've tried just about everything, sign her up for swimming lessons. A swimming instructor might know ways to get her to go underwater and she could also benefit from seeing all the other children in the class facing their fears. A little positive peer pressure might get the job done.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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