24 April 2017, by Joel Chng
At 19 months old, my son Ezra has a love-hate relationship with water.
I have always wondered how Ezra’s fear of water came about, but a recent chat with my friend who is a paediatrician changed my perspective. He said, “When Ezra sees water going down the drain, he is too young to understand why that happens. You might think that Ezra has a fear of water, but maybe he is afraid of being sucked down the drain?”
That made me think back on Ezra’s experiences with water: visits to the swimming pool, his daily baths and time spent at water parks.
My parents-in-law are members of a club which has a beautiful infinity pool that overlooks the sea. At Ezra’s first visit when he was seven months old, I realised that the ‘infinity’ concept (the position of the pool makes it seem like it merges into the surrounding landscape) and perhaps the smell of chlorine overwhelmed Ezra. Thus I decided to limit the seemingly vast space by introducing Ezra to a smaller jacuzzi pool, and it was a bonus that the jacuzzi pool was heated. I was eager to have Ezra in the pool with us and was excited about my baby’s first swim.
I immediately carried him into the pool with me, after putting the neck float on for him. Big mistake! Ezra screamed in fear and pleaded to be carried out of the pool. I brought him to the edge of the pool and gently splashed water away from us – to show him that water is harmless and that water play can be fun. He continued crying so I took him out of the pool.
We sat by the side of the pool and watched the others swim. After some time, I dipped my legs in the water to encourage him to do the same – and he did! I gradually increased his exposure to the pool, while holding him in the security of my arms. I gave him frequent reassurances that he was safe, and he was soon having a good time in the pool.
Ezra spends a lot of time at his grandparents’ house as we live on the same street. When it comes to bath time, Ezra would protest or cry when water touched his face and when he had to get his hair washed. My mother-in-law recently introduced bathing toys to make bathing fun for him. Each time she bathed Ezra, she would include floating toys and give a lot of positive reinforcement to encourage him. For example, she would sing his favourite action songs and do the actions with him. She would also fill a plastic container with water and encourage Ezra to pour it over his legs, then his body, followed by his neck. Sometimes she included a little yellow chick and Ezra would watch it float around the bathtub. We also learnt to use the distraction method to encourage Ezra to tip his head back for rinsing (“Where’s the light?” and “Look up; do you see a fan?”).
In January, we went to the Zoo with family and our last stop was the Rainforest Kidzworld Wet Play Area. This water playground, with its water-flushed slides and water shooters, overwhelmed Ezra. He was startled each time the jumbo water bucket rained on the children below it. While his younger cousin were having a splashing good time among the rain arches, Ezra chose to remain at the side and was happily picking up leaves. This time, I let him be, as I wanted Ezra to associate water with pleasant events.
I understand that progress is a gradual process, and I am confident that as Ezra’s sense of control is increased, my son will come to think of water as safe and enjoyable.