Almost-3-year-old afraid of water - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 08-22-2013, 09:09 AM - Thread Starter
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So, I'm on a beach vacation right now, and it is Not Going Well.


My son (almost three years old) is terrified of the ocean. He says he's scared that he will "wash away." He also gets utterly freaked out--sobbing and shaking--if I or the baby get within several yards of the water. He's happy to play in the sand, but he really does not want any of the rest of us to get into the water, which we would like to do. Last summer he was fine...


We haven't been to the pool this summer, and usually just go wading in a narrow and shallow river. The one time I went into a deep-ish swimming hole, he freaked out, again, saying that he was scared I would "wash away." With the baby, going to the pool or other deep water feels like such a hassle that I haven't bothered with it, although I suppose I should have...


We are currently on Cape Hatteras, where the sound side is very mellow and shallow. No waves, and the water isn't over 3 feet deep until you're 100 yards from shore. He's seen other kids--smaller than he is--playing and having a good time AND NOT WASHING AWAY. 


Does anyone have any ideas?

Mama to Silas Anansi, born 9/9/10 and Petra Eadaion, born 10/1/12.

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#2 of 6 Old 08-22-2013, 09:26 AM
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My daughter was the same. Refused to even go near the water and stuck around the sand areas building castles and such. We realized that forcing her was not the answer bc she became even more terrified. What did work (took about 4 days to get to this point) was taking a long beach walk with hand held and bit away from the shores and moving a bit closer when she was comfortable. By the 7th day she was able to walk right where the waves ebb without being scared and even jump and splash around.
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#3 of 6 Old 08-27-2013, 06:43 PM
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I've read quite a bit about past life experiences/traumas that show up in present lives in young children and this sounds like one of those things. When he's relaxed & happily engaged in something ask him if you can ask him a question, if he says yes, try to engage him in a conversation about his fears. Say something along the lines of "on the beach today you were really afraid of us getting washed away...who have you see get washed away?" and go from there. Be supportive of whatever he says even if it sounds like a tall tale. Affirm that it was so scary for him to see that, etc It may have even been something he saw on TV or in a movie. The brain doesn't know the difference between real present time stuff and things it sees on the screen or things remembered from a past life it all seems real & scary and as though it just happened a moment ago. The chemicals released by the brain into the body don't change based on how the image was seen. Fear is fear no matter how it was experienced originally. 

Just having a conversation about it and having his fears affirmed may be enough of a release for him to forget that he was ever afraid of the water. Keep having the conversation if once didn't get to the bottom of the fear. You can also ask if he can see it in his mind, who was there, if it was a pool, river, ocean, lake... what was going on...he might feel responsible for the person that washed away (if it's a past life scenario) and that would explain why he doesn't want anyone in the family to go near the water. 

Good Luck, mama! I hope you can enjoy the rest of your vacation!!

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#4 of 6 Old 08-27-2013, 08:22 PM
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My kids the same way... In his case it's a sensory thing. He hates sprinklers and water parks. Sometimes I can get him to go near water if I give him containers to fill up...because, ironically, he likes to play with water. As for the way. Too splashy, he says. I don't force him with this kind of stuff because I imagine it would be rather traumatic for him. I just walk along the beach and come back by myself later.

Have fun in Hatteras, it's awesome!
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#5 of 6 Old 08-28-2013, 01:13 PM
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We live at the shore and last summer my son was the same way. He was the same age as yours. This summer, quite the opposite, charging into the water.
I was much more comfortable when he was cautious. I want him to have a respect of the power of the ocean not necessarily a fear of it though like last year. It was healthy though at that stage of his development and knowledge of the ocean. I am thrilled that he is so enthusiastic now but it does need to be tempered a bit, we watch him like a hawk. In time, as he matures he will find a happy medium. I hope the same for your child.
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#6 of 6 Old 08-30-2013, 08:04 AM
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We just completed her first round of ISR lessons with DD this spring, and at almost 22mos she still is leery of large bodies of water - pools and oceans.  She happily plays in her kiddie pool at home or while in RI a month ago she sat in a small tide pool when the tide was out, but cries when near waves (even small ones) or in pools  I MUCH prefer this to a child who dives headfirst with no fear, especially at this age.  While I have complete confidence in her ability to self rescue and float if she were to get into the water, it also put her in a position of feeling responsible for her own safety in water.  She's never used floats or vests, and so she knows what it's like to slip under the water and how much work it is to surface and float therefore I chalk up her current resistance to that.  I know as she grows and her abilities and skills are honed, her *fear* will subside.  But I never force her.  At the beach, we play in the sand, she asks me for buckets of water to play with away from the water itself and I oblige.  If we are with friends, she's more likely to allow me to walk her closer to the water because she's distracted by people she knows - but could care less about other kids playing in the water.  In big pools, I allow her to get comfortable before dropping her and allowing her to practice her skills and give her ample warning with a countdown so she knows to hold her breath.  So there's compromise.  Don't force it, but when the opportunity presents itself, definitely push some of those boundaries to desensitize him to the experience slowly without him realizing it's even happening.

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