The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Fear of the Water or Stranger Anxiety?

Swimming Instructors and parents alike often mistake Stranger Anxiety with Fear of the Water.  According to child psychologists, the child is likely thinking something like, “I don’t know who you are or what you want from me, so I’m sticking close to Mom.”

According to Dr. Avelet, a contributing writer for Parent Magazine, “Fear of strangers is a healthy, protective fear — children should not go to people they don’t know.”  Of course this is a downside for a child’s first few swimming lessons.  According to Dr. Talmi, children should be given plenty of time to get to know someone before expecting her to interact and be friendly to them.   This certainly includes a new swim instructor.

I think it’s important that we, as Learn-to-Swim Professionals, help parents understand this.  I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have heard parents say, “I don’t understand, he loves the water.  Or she loves to swim.   Or the parent says to the child:  what’s wrong with you?  You love to swim in our pool!”

As LTS Professionals, we have to intervene as quickly as possible and let the parent know this most likely a case of stranger anxiety, not swimming pool anxiety, and it will go away.   We just need to give her some time.  I want you to stay by your child’s side as we interact today and maybe even next time.   The key is that we give her as much time as she needs.

As you, the parents, and possibly your other students model friendly behaviors, the fearful child will naturally warm up to you and the new situation.   For more on helping children overcome their fears, check out the Swim Lessons University audio program From Tears to Cheers.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about the Swim Lessons University Online Swim Instructor Certification  and curriculum, make sure to visit us at

Swim Lessons University is currently being utilized by recreation departments, YMCAs, America Camp Association swim lessons programs, as well as by private swimming instructors in 45 states and over 30 countries!

You can also call us toll free at 1-866-498-SWIM (7946).


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August 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm Comment (1)