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How to Deal with Water Trauma

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One scary moment in the water (think a too-tough teacher or a wave in the face) can turn your kid into an aqua-phobe faster than you can say Wicked Witch of the West. Charlotte Mansfield, founder of Mermaid Swim School in Sarasota, FL, suggests ways to help her move through it.

Focus on play. On your next pool visit, stay on the stairs with her, splashing, blowing bubbles, and offering encouragement. At the beach, start her at the water's edge, and make a game of yelling as you dart away from the waves--it lets her release anxiety while getting close to water again.

Go back to the beginning. Amy Wehr's 4-year-old son, Ryan, tackled water trauma twice--both times when pushy teachers tried to move him along too fast. (Kids should always decide themselves when to try a new task, rather than be forced to do it.) So the Novato, CA, mom scaled back--all the way to the bathtub. "We asked him to put just one ear in, and then a cheek," she says. "He had to relearn that it's okay to take direction and get wet."

Seek out a gentler teaching environment. The hectic Olympic-size pools Ryan began with didn't have a shallow place to stand, forcing beginners to cling to the side. The answer: a smaller, quieter pool with a seasoned instructor.

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