To my surprise, she was not as excited as I have expected, and she seemed very scared of the whole place. When we brought her near one of the wet sections with mini fountains, she screamed and refused to come down because water is running on the floor. And when we tried to bring her to touch the fountain, she clung to the husband's shoulder tight and buried her face on his shoulder, screaming like she is in such a horror.
To be frank I was quite disappointed, I looked at all the other kids and toddlers running around and laughing, and here is my own kid so easily scared. My disappointment then became self-blame. I blamed myself for not bringing her for swimming at a younger age. We only brought her to swimming pool a few times after she turned one, and most of time we sat her on a float and pushed her. She has not tried to float and kick in the water yet. We do not have a swimming facility near our place hence swimming is not part of our regular activities. After blaming myself I then started to worry, worry that she is too timid, and she will grow up not strong and brave enough.
You see, in a short 10 seconds, there are already so many negative words I have mentally used on my own child - scared, timid, not strong, not brave. As a mother who reads a lot on parenting I know fully well how damaging negative words can be to our child, especially words from the parents, but at that moment my mind was just a bit - out of control.
I must admit I did not know what's the best way to react after seeing her fear. I tried to put her down or bring her near the fountian a few more times, she reacted the same way. Before I became frustrated I let the husband take over, so that I can take a mental break.
Thanks for the husband, who is forever so patient with our daughter. He was not over-reacting at all, and he was in no hurry to push her into the water. He brought her to the dry area, let her come down for a walk so she was warmed up, then he held her hand to bring her near the wet area (but still standing on the dry path), pointed to the fountain, explained to her what it is and what the other kids are doing, then he bent down to wet his own hand and touched her arm, so she knew it is just water, nothing scary. He then guided her to the pool with rocks and a giant polar bear slide. I can see that she is much more relaxed, she walked while continued looking around to check what other kids were doing. When they reached the pool side, she bent forward to touch the water and she put her feet right in!
A few kids came over to play with her, she was happy playing with them. Although she practically stayed at the same spot for the entire 30 minutes, not roaming around the entire playground like other kids, we were happy to see the progress she made.
Later when I shared with my husband the thoughts and emotions went into my mind, he just re-assured me that our daughter is Okay; He also corrected me that she is not a timid girl, she climbs up and down our bed despite falling a few times. He rejected any negative words I used on her. He refused to label or brand her. I am truly thankful for my husband who always complements me when it comes to parenting.
PS: When I came back, I searched the internet and found a few practical tips to help children overcome the fear of water, the approach is useful in other settings too. Here are some tips from the website "Just the facts Baby":
- Don't minimize the reality of their fear ("Oh come on, it's just like the pool, don't be silly.")
- Don't be overly impressed with their fears ("Oh honey, I'm sorry, let me get you a freezie. Let mommy wipe your tears.")
- Don't over emphasize re-assurances ("It's just water, it's okay, your safe, mommy has you, nothing will happen.")
- Don't expect your child to be fearful of the water, as children will live up to our expectations.
- Don't be a slave to their fear. If they only go in the water "their way" and "their way" involves paralyzing you, you are actually supporting their belief.
- Do be matter of fact and unimpressed ("That's okay. If you don't like the water you don't have to go in.")
- Do continue having a good time yourself. The best way to grow an interest in swimming is to be a swimmer yourself.
- Do have faith and show encouragement ("I am sure that one day you may decide you'd like to be swimming in the lake so much you won't let your fear stop you.")