Fear of Water

Updated on April 27, 2008
M.R. asks from Elyria, OH
11 answers

My son who is 8 years old has a fear of water in his face. Even just a splash or a spritz. We are bathing him to ensure his hair gets washed, but he just wants to sit in the tub and put his wet hands on his head thinking its washing his hair. When I wash his hair I have used cups to rinse, I have put a sticker on the ceiling to tell him where to look while we rinse and I always have a washcloth on hand to wipe his face rencently. We did just recently "graduate" to using the hand sprayer of the shower but he fights me for a little bit first. He has Asperger's Syndrome so the approach I have to use with him might be a little different, so I'm seeking some different outlooks on this and maybe another idea. OR is this normal anyways? My other two children are 14 and almost 12, and I thinking he should be "older" than he really is? I don't want to push him growing for sure!! Just a different view. Thank you

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answers from Indianapolis on

I would try private swimming lessons and play games with him when it comes to water. Put things on the shower wall and let him hit them with the water then splash him. Make it fun......Kids always respond to things differently when you make it a game.

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answers from Cleveland on

Hi M.. I have a son with Asperger's as well...diagnosed at age 4 (yes, it can be diagnosed this young...the earlier the better, and if you wait until puberty you have missed many opportunities for the early intervention that is so critical!)My son is now almost 15 (yikes!) and doing really, really well. I am also a child/family therapist specializing in working with kids/families dealing with Asperger's. One thing that has helped for some of the kids with the water-in-the-face sensitivity (which is very, very common) is a "visor" made just for this purpose. They are waterproof, and like a sun visor, only made to wear in the bath so that the water does not go into the eyes. They sell them at places like Toys R Us and Bed, Bath and Beyond. They have been lifesavers for some parents. If you decide to try it, maybe you could take your son with you to pick it out so he knows what to expect and has some control over the decision. You could try to relate it to his "special interest"...for example, if he is a Star Wars fanatic, you can relate his wearing the visor to one of the characters wearing a protective mask. Distractions also work, like giving him another sensory activity that he loves to do in the bath while you wash his hair...like spraying shaving cream on the tile and "finger painting" or just enjoying the sensation in his hands, new bath toys that reflect his special interest...so that in his mind, hair washing is paired with something novel and enjoyable. Good luck! E.

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answers from Indianapolis on

It is not unusual at that age.
You are doing the right thing, keep up the good work!



answers from Dayton on

I have had three children of my five with a huge issue with water in their face. We take a folded washcloth and have them hold it over their face. The we howl at the moon. I told my daughter, "You know what we could do? We could be coyotes, and when we get scared we could howl at the moon." I showed her how to throw her head back and howl really loudly with the washrag over her eyes. She thought this was really funny and fun, but it also gave her something to do to express her feelings so that she didn't panic or feel helpless. And while her head was back I rinsed her hair with a giant glass of water so that we got all the shampoo out in one "howl."



answers from Bloomington on

Hi M., I'm T.. I have a 3 year old that has always been terrified to get water in his eyes when bathing. If I try to rinse his hair, he absolutely freaks out. I tried everything i could think of and finally bought a pair of swimming goggles for him to wear. Now as long as he is wearing them, he loves taking a bath. I'm not sure if this will work, but I hope it helps! God bless~T.



answers from Cincinnati on

My 6.5 year old has an undiagnosed developmental disability (we've run the gamut of tests, scans, therapists and developmental pediatricians; still ongoing). He has some anxiety as well as sensory issues with his face, ears and nose. We've been having problems with water in the face since he was 1 or 2. However, he's ok with it when he's playing with a sprinkler or swimming. We've tried having him blow bubbles under water, 'close' his eyes+nose+mouth while I pour water over his head, a visor and even trying the shower. All these worked occasionally; most times accompanied with banshee screams. A few months ago, we put him in the shower and left him to do his own thing there -- no pressure, no prompting, no conversation. He got to turn on the shower himself to the exact temperature he's comfortable with. 20 minutes later, he was still happily showering away. Today, he even showers at the Y by himself. He soaps and shampoos himself but we still follow up with a more thorough soaping & shampooing, which he's ok with. I think without the pressure from us, the anxiety went away. Hope this helps.



answers from Indianapolis on

Swim lessons might help him get over this.
My oldest son hated water on his face when he was little, so I would fold a hand towel and have him lay that over his face when I washed his hair.



answers from Youngstown on

My 8 year old son has sensory processing disorder, which was diagnosed when he was 4. He hated baths in general and shampooing was only done every few months because the shampoo felt like it was burning his scalp (regardless how mild it was). Our most successful way to shampoo is to let a good part of the bathwater out so he can lay on his back in the tub and his face is well out of the water. I can use my hand to bring up enough water to wet the front of hair, then he sits up for the shampoo, and lays back down to rinse. If he gets a little worried or worked up, I'll give him a folded up washcloth to put over his eyes. It works really well! Good luck!



answers from Indianapolis on

Have you tried swim lessons? Maybe you could get him in a lesson for younger kids that are learning to like the water more than learn to swim? We did lessons at Riverview Rehab (there are 2 locations) and the water is as warm as a bath! It's a nice transition from bathing to swimming.



answers from Indianapolis on

I have a 10 YO who has asperger, (how did you get him diagnosed that young? They tell me they can't give a full diagnosis on asperger until they hit puberity!!!), ADHA, ODD, and depression. I think a lot of the problem is sensoroy since must autistic children have a sensory issue somewhere along the line. We have a food texture issue.

Does he like to swim? Play under a sprinkler? Have water gun fights?

If he can do the other things with no problem I would say it is because when he was really little he got water up his nose, or got water/soap in his eyes and it burned. Baby shampoo burns like fire if it gets in your eyes.

I would try the water gun fights and the sprinkler in the yard to help him break some of the fear.

P. R



answers from Canton on

Dear M.,

that is an excellent idea with the sticker! I know what you are talking about because my son has a lot of sensory integration and perception issues and perhaps shares many other issues with your eight year old. My son's reaction to hair washing was VERY similar to your son's, even two years ago. We have mandatory swimming in our school system and it was an absolute horror for the first two years. We were told that he didn't like the feeling of water due to neurosensory issues and that we couldn't imagine how it felt like for him, etc.... but now he actually swims with his face in the water thanks to a wonderful new patient teacher. He showers and washes his own hair now also (he is about to turn ten). I wonder if you might want to find a swimming teacher who is good with children with these sorts of issues - the showering came as a fringe benefit to the swimming, all perhaps as if his system had somehow matured enough to manage the feeling of water on the face. All situations and children are different, but it worked for us.

You're doing a good job. Good luck. Hang in there.

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