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"I was really scared": When Laura's son could swim better than her, she faced a lifelong fear.

I could see how hard my son Toby was working as he splashed up the lane at swimming class. I gave him a big smile and a wave when his happy face emerged from the deep end, proud that all his efforts were paying off. Toby could swim well and at just seven-years-old, he was already starting to out-do me in most sports-based activities.

I had toyed with booking swimming lessons in the past but always found an excuse not to try. It was too cold or I was too busy. In truth, I was really scared. Scared of drowning, scared of putting my face underwater, scared of not being able to swim as well as my then seven-year-old.

Facing our fears as adults can be very hard but according to Sydney based psychologist Rachel Voysey, also very worthwhile.

“The longer we avoid something the more the fear of that thing grows. When we avoid we eliminate any chance of having new experiences that may prove to us that perhaps our fear is irrational or that in fact we are perfectly capable of dealing with the thing we fear most,” Rachel says.

“With anxiety and fear the only way out is by busting through! This is why exposure therapies and the phrase ‘facing our fears’ in the absolute truth and best way to conquer the things that get our hearts racing.”

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Video by MMC

In January 2018, I decided enough was enough and it was time to face my lifelong fear. I booked myself in for an adult swimming lesson at our local pool and convinced two dear friends to come along for the fun. With just one year until my 40th birthday, I set myself a reasonable goal of learning to swim in 12 months.

Growing up in the UK, I had some rudimentary swimming lessons in primary school over a term or two and that was it. My dad taught me how to swim breaststroke on holiday one year and I survived swimming around with my head above water perfectly well.

It wasn’t until I officially moved to Australia in 2003 and started spending more time at the beach, that I realised I was incompetent as well as afraid when it came to ‘proper’ freestyle swimming. It was seeing my little Toby learn with such determination and enjoyment that gave me the final push toward lessons.

“Children are fantastic at reminding us that most of what we fear comes from self-limiting beliefs and thoughts that we have accumulated from the experiences we have had in life,” says Rachel.

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“Children are naturally curious and adventurous and have fewer self-imposed limitations and negative thoughts. They are less the product of their thoughts and are still engaged with experiences, play and learning.”

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I was very nervous and found it infuriatingly difficult, but I have it my best shot. Image: Supplied.

Starting my lessons as Toby was simultaneously improving in the pool was good for me in ways I did not expect. I was very nervous and found it infuriatingly difficult. It took a long time for me to get the breathing technique right, and I had a new respect for Toby when I really began to understand what hard work it was.

Toby was very curious to see his old mum learning something new. While he mostly found it funny and tried to show me how much better he was than me, he did also give me encouragement.

Psychologist and founder of Empowering Parents, Giuliett Moran, says it is great for kids to see a grown up facing down a fear.

“The benefits of a child observing you overcome a fear, step out of your comfort zone and achieve your goals is invaluable," Giuliett says.

"Children learn best through imitation and yet we often ask them to try new things and step out of their comfort zones. Their lives are full of ‘firsts’, yet they rarely see adults in their lives do the same."

I turn 40 later this month and I am happy to say I can now swim one kilometre freestyle at a very slow and steady pace. Best of all though, I absolutely love swimming.

I even ended up completing a beginner’s triathlon in February 2019. Toby was there cheering me on with the family – I think he was mostly bemused - but maybe one day, he will understand how much he inspired me to face down my fears and just have a go.

Has your child ever helped you to overcome a fear? Tell us in the comments below.

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