When Your Child Says - If I Enter The Water, The Sharks Will Eat Me!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008
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If you watch the media reports on encounters of humans and nature, you would quickly think that everybody who camps in the forest or goes swimming in the ocean is in very real danger of getting attacked by a bear or shark. As adults, we can rationally figure out that this likely won't happen to you but for kids, it can easily manifest into real phobia.

UnderwaterTimes.com has just published a fantastic article about how to help children deal with their fears of nature and the outdoors and provides some really cool tips and rules on talking to kids about nature.

Some basic rules that they suggest are:

  1. Don't lie about the actual risks or dangers. Never tell children bears and sharks are not dangerous.
  2. Don't use this fear to correct other areas of bad behavior. An example would be telling your child "if you do not do what I told you, I will call a bear to come out of the woods and tell him to eat you". Yes, many parents actually do different variations of this, most popular one being "I'll get that policeman to arrest you".
  3. Don't further reduce their self-esteem. They are already feeling guilt and/or embarrassment because of their fear so don't make things worse.
  4. If as a parent you are unable to help your child, don't despair or give up, seek professional help. Call a licensed child psychologist and schedule an appointment for both you and your child.
All of this got me thinking about some of the fears that we come up against as paddling instructors. It's my experience is that a huge number of people are absolutely terrified of the water and it can really get in the way of their learning.

I'm interested in what suggestions you might have to give other instructors to help deal with students who come to a canoe or kayak lesson but are still terrified of water. I'm interested in tips for either kids or adults.

I will get the ball rolling. For me dealing with a student who is very scared, it is important that we move slowly in the progression from land to water. It's a real make or break point in the day as they are moving from a stable environment to a very unstable boat. Move slowly at their pace and keep a good firm grip on the boat until they are comfortable and ready to go.

Another quick tip is that they are nervous enough as it is, you don't need to get in the way. You are in charge and done it a 1000 times so show confidence but also be sensitive to their needs and concerns. That will go a long way in making their experience on the water more enjoyable.

Got something to add? Post them below so we can learn from your experience.


If you watch the media reports on encounters of humans and nature, you would quickly think that everybody who camps in the forest or goes swimming in the ocean is in very real danger of getting attacked by a bear or shark. As adults, we can rationally figure out that this likely won't happen to you but for kids, it can easily manifest into real phobia.

UnderwaterTimes.com has just published a fantastic article about how to help children deal with their fears of nature and the outdoors and provides some really cool tips and rules on talking to kids about nature.

Some basic rules that they suggest are:

  1. Don't lie about the actual risks or dangers. Never tell children bears and sharks are not dangerous.
  2. Don't use this fear to correct other areas of bad behavior. An example would be telling your child "if you do not do what I told you, I will call a bear to come out of the woods and tell him to eat you". Yes, many parents actually do different variations of this, most popular one being "I'll get that policeman to arrest you".
  3. Don't further reduce their self-esteem. They are already feeling guilt and/or embarrassment because of their fear so don't make things worse.
  4. If as a parent you are unable to help your child, don't despair or give up, seek professional help. Call a licensed child psychologist and schedule an appointment for both you and your child.
All of this got me thinking about some of the fears that we come up against as paddling instructors. It's my experience is that a huge number of people are absolutely terrified of the water and it can really get in the way of their learning.

I'm interested in what suggestions you might have to give other instructors to help deal with students who come to a canoe or kayak lesson but are still terrified of water. I'm interested in tips for either kids or adults.

I will get the ball rolling. For me dealing with a student who is very scared, it is important that we move slowly in the progression from land to water. It's a real make or break point in the day as they are moving from a stable environment to a very unstable boat. Move slowly at their pace and keep a good firm grip on the boat until they are comfortable and ready to go.

Another quick tip is that they are nervous enough as it is, you don't need to get in the way. You are in charge and done it a 1000 times so show confidence but also be sensitive to their needs and concerns. That will go a long way in making their experience on the water more enjoyable.

Got something to add? Post them below so we can learn from your experience.


David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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