While I am happy to let my six year old continue to have baths most of the time, there are times when she needs to take the quicker shower.

She has never been thrilled about water - even though we did those infant swim classes. It took a long time to get her willing to blow bubbles and it is just a fear she seems to innately have (and has always had).

The spraying of the shower head freaks her out and she doesn't even like to use the shower head sprayer when she is holding it. She is willing if I do it for her (she's a pretty decent kid and relatively compliant even about this), but she is fearful and the whole thing is torture for her.

She has warmed up to the idea of the water enough to be okay splashing in it, blowing bubbles (partial face submersion) and even floating around in a pool (as long as she's got an inner tube or me or her dad) to hang onto. She can doggie paddle to the edge if she needs to and enjoys splashing in it - she just won't get her face wet.

We will be staying in a cabin leading up to Christmas where baths are pretty tough and then she has an aunt getting married just after Christmas and we will be in a hotel for half a week and super busy (and wanting her to shower - because it is a lot quicker). How do I help her get through this fear?

While I am concerned about the pool too, she is functional in the pool. It is the shower thing that I'd really like to focus on for now and the pool thing in the coming summer months.

A year later: She is now taking showers after becoming excited about swimming lessons and water in general. We had her take semi-privates at the YMCA with a kid about three years younger than she is. He is a dive right in - even if I drown kind of kid so the reality of watching someone so much younger than she is, not be scared made her a bit braver. Since showering to rinse before and after getting in the pool is part of the deal - this was also addressed again and more fully. Now she enjoys the shower so much 20 minutes will go by and we have to bang on the door and tell her time is up!!

2 Answers 2

  1. Ask her what she is afraid of, and then listen. Many kids are afraid of drowning, getting burned, being cold, not being able to see when the water is streaming at their eyes, not being able to hear if water is in their ears, the feeling of water in or on their nose or ears. Sometime it's the temperature and sometimes, it's the pressure. It may be something you hadn't thought of-- so ask. If she has trouble articulating, ask her how she feels about water on her head, eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, mouth, neck, body.

  2. Validate her concern-- eg it would be scary to not be able to see! It is important to understand why she is scared-- and let her know that you understand. Then you may have to think creatively about how to address her concern, eg she may prefer to have goggles in the shower so that she can see, until she gets used to closing her eyes against the stream of water.

  3. Show her how you do it. Get your bathing suits on and take a shower so she can see how you cope fearlessly with the shower. How you set the pressure and temperature where you like them, and how you enjoy the whole process. Invite her to join you if she likes.

  4. Empower her to get control. Have her set the water pressure as low as she likes. Have her set the temperature so that it is comfortable. Let her adjust the temperature and pressure and be comfortable turning it to a trickle. Teach her to close her eyes against the streaming water. Teach her how to make sure that when she breathes, she will get a nose full of air, not water.

  5. Give her a sponge or a wash cloth that she likes, so that she can wash herself.

  6. Six year olds tend to need spot cleaning more than full body showers; most kids don't really make body odors at that age. It's better to compromise than to ruin the trip for both of you!

  • +1 right off the bat for suggesting asking her! and then empowering her to use the settings. She says it is how it "feels" that scares her, so she really doesn't like the sensation. Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 14:17
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    If there are some parts of her that feel less scary than others, such as her hands or her face, start with those. Try to talk about each body part with her separately to see how she feels about it. It may help to start her showering with a bathing suit or even shorts and a shirt. If she has sensitivities or fears about her body, this is a good time to hear what she has to say. It's also a good time to point out which areas are private-- only for her, you, and her doctor while you're there, to look at to keep her healthy.
    – 5un5
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 15:59
  • We're still working on it, but she is warming up to the idea - I'm surprised she still wants me to aim the sprayer - I really thought letting her control it would be more helpful. Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 0:06

I'll write more later, but...

Could you, for now, stand her in the shower and use a jug/pitcher to pour water over her? (I see her getting cold as a possible problem, though.)

Ask for a hotel room with a tub since you're running out of time?

Does she play with dolls? Or do you have a dog? Could she give her dolls/dog a shower at first to get used to the spray? When it's less focused on her she may not freak out so much.

For the more general water piece: I swam competitively as a kid and take kids on swimming field trips a lot. Picture me with 25 kids, most of whom have never been swimming before and are also terrified of the water!

Sometimes the group effect can be helpful. Could you take her swimming with her cousins and explain beforehand that you are willing to hold on to her in the water the. entire. time.? Often they have so much fun splashing each other they forget to be afraid. When in the water, I hold them tightly so they feel safe and that helps. And they know they can always grab on to me at any time, any place they can reach (often around my neck!) when they get scared. I then move them around so they're on my hip or hanging off my shoulder instead!

In general, this is a time to cash in on some of that trust you've been storing up :) Tell her repeatedly, "I keep you safe. When you say stop, we stop. But I also know how much you like learning new things and how proud you will be."

Obviously it's best to find a pool she can stand in comfortably. The hotel pool might be good for this, but be ware of other kids who won't understand her fear. (hotel pools are smaller and its harder to keep your own space)

Teaching her how to float while in the water can be very helpful so they feel more in control in the water and less at the water's mercy. Begin by being in the pool with her (if she'll let you I guess) and then hold her upper body tightly and let her watch her legs float to the surface. Over time hold her less and less tightly until she can float on her back with your hand under the small of her back. This is one that has worked well for me. Typically encouraging them to make a "sea star" shape helps them float better than a "soldier/pencil" shape.

Do you have access to any babies? From your other posts I know she likes helping other kids, maybe you guys could take the baby swimming and she could help "teach" the baby how to swim and play in the water? Focusing on the baby may help her forget her own fears?

I taught my college roommate how to swim because she had always been afraid, and as a teen I taught the little kids to dive because they were afraid of our swim coach :)

More ideas: let her wear swim goggles in the shower. It helps stop the shampoo getting in her eyes too. My little sister loved swimming and taking showers but she always insisted on wearing goggles in the beginning.

She may like swimming more now than as infant since you can talk her through it now. Could she lay on her tummy in the bath and blow bubbles? Could she wear a snorkel in the bath just to practice putting her face in? Then you could try it at the pool? The bath is nice because there are no other kids around.

I'm only pushing the pool stuff because I think being able to swim is a life skill. I don't think she needs to love it or do it regularly, but a basic competency in the water could be, literally , a lifesaver some day. :/

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    Having grown up on an island - I think swimming is an important life skill too. I could do it before I walked, its one of those parts of her growing up so far I feel worst about and have been absolutely stuck on. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 22:59
  • somehow I didn't think the cousins would be a good option, but figured it was worth saying for anyone else reading ;) And, keep in mind two summers ago is a LONG time for a someone who has only experienced six summers... Possibly worth a shot again? And, maybe with you holding her, instead of a swim instructor, you might get better results? And, I'm sorry you feel crappy about this, but in the long list of things that could be worse... I think it's not a big deal :) Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 23:35
  • Yes, worth a shot again, and actually, more like one summer (it was when she was four) just letting you know we're still at it - she can't float in the tub though. Thanks for the, "its not a big deall." That is how I console myself. In the grand scheme of things, things with her are pretty darn good. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 23:43
  • @balanced: I was terrified of the water until I was 7. Then one day I just sort of figured it out and was jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool by the end of the day. Just keep working with her and she'll get it. I have friends whose kids could swim by the time they were 2 and neither of my kids are competent swimmers, either yet. +1 for the goggle idea, btw, Christine!
    – Meg Coates
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 14:18

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