When I was a kid, perhaps six or seven years old, and did not know how to swim, I went to a swimming pool with my family and some friends. I remember it vividly, because what happened next was so horrific, it was indelibly burnt into my brain. I was clinging to the side of the pool and eventually, with some encouragement, I let go. I had no idea what to do and sheer panic and terror set in. I was flailing wildly trying to save myself. This nightmare seemed to go on for an eternity. I just could not get back to the side of the pool. I remember that I felt like I was dying. Somehow, I managed to get back to the side of the pool, grab on and come up for air. When I did, I saw everyone just watching me as if nothing had happened. It was like a movie. I felt I had survived a tragedy and worse was that no one seemed to care.
Now, I can imagine that in their minds, they thought that were doing me a favor by letting me “learn to swim”. In actuality, I was so terrified, that I did not learn to swim until I was 14 years old and forced to learn in high school gym class. Before then, I refused to re-enter water deeper than my bathtub. I trusted no one.
So, when my son turned 4 years old, I decided to get him swimming lessons. The great thing was that the pool was built to give swimming lessons to kids. The water was warm and it was about his shoulder height everywhere. There was no place in the pool where he could not stand up if he wanted to.
The instructor kept encouraging him to put his head under water. But he refused. She would throw rings into the pool and he would pick them up with his foot. He would play in the pool, but when she asked him to go under to go through a ring, he just would not do it. If she insisted, he cried. I felt like I understood and decided I needed to help him to get through his fear of the water.
The next weekend, I took him to a swimming pool alone. I put several coins at various depths in the swimming pool. Some were on steps, some were on the bottom of the pool. I told him that the coins, all together, were enough to buy a toy car at the local supermarket. I told him that if he could pick up the coins, they were his. He could not do it the first time we went. So, I calmly picked up the coins, put them back in my wallet and we went home. We went back a week later and tried again. Again, I put some coins on the steps and others on the bottom of the swimming pool. It probably took him an hour, but he managed to pick up all of the coins! We got dressed and went to the supermarket where he bought his car. He was very proud of that car.
At the next swimming lesson, the instructor threw some rings into the pool. He bent down to pick them up and after a moment’s hesitation, he just swam away like a fish! The instructor was amazed. I was amazed. He was never afraid of the water again.After that, he quickly learned some basic swimming strokes on his front and on his back.
Now, he loves to swim and he goes to the pool whenever he can. He has so much fun and I am so glad that we got him over his fear of the water. And it just took a few coins to do it.