Water Works

July 19, 2010 at 12:29 am | Posted in Lollipop | 27 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s been my distinct privilege this past week to drag my daughter to a swim class she doesn’t want to attend.

I mean, she likes the water. She likes splashing, especially if her brother is nearby. And she likes the variety of swimsuits she owns.

That’s where it ends.

The instructor asked that the kiddos wear goggles. Lollipop will not. Even though she picked out her own special purple pair for this exact occasion.

He gently encourages them to blow bubbles and put their faces in the water. She deflects with statements like, “I can’t because my eyes will get wet” and “But I forgot my Nemo floatie.”

He gets them to work on their arm movements by having them chase him in the pool. In her zeal to win, she speeds through the water after him. With her arms tucked deftly at her sides.

He catches them as they jump off the pool edge. She cackles at the two boys in her class when they are hesitant. But has yet to actually jump herself.

The water is always too cold. The activity the instructor suggests is always the one “I already practiced yesterday with my Daddy.” And it’s always someone else’s turn.

But the best part? About 15 minutes in, she bombards the teacher with one question repeated at one-minute intervals: “Is it time to go yet??”

We’ve got two more weeks of this. (And so does the poor instructor.)

We’ve talked with her about manners. About respecting teachers. About being empathetic and trying new things. We’ve taken her to the pool on our own to practice what she’s learning. We’ve purchased a bribe prize for when she puts her face in the water 10 times.

Like so many other things about parenting, we’re figuring this out as we go. And I know that in her own way, so is she. But as I’ve watched her this week, I’ve come to one conclusion.

My daughter prefers to swim upstream. You know, figuratively speaking.


How do you nudge your children to try things they find scary or unpleasant? What personality traits surprise you about them? And should I get the instructor a lovely parting gift??



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  1. I spend vast amounts of my time ‘nudging’ Maxi-Taxi to do things he’s anxious about. He’s become a lot better, but prior to age six he was very difficult. The main things I discovered were to 1. reassure 2. allow him to discover things in his own time and 3. to encourage him just that little bit further each time. So, on the swimming front, he began classes at the beginning of last year refusing to enter the water and he will now be gently led around by the instructor or myself (sometimes). Little by little. I find that if you nudge them too quickly, they outright refuse and you find yourself going backwards…

    • Yes, nudging too quickly got us nowhere but back in diapers when she was potty training, so I have learned to back off with her a lot. But it doesn’t get better till age six?? Holy moly, this will be a lesson in patience for me! =>

  2. Good advice from Maxabella! No gifts for the instructor are necessary – just your appreciation. They deal with reluctant kiddos all the time!! Have you tried the goggles in the bathtub? Tried having her take showers (get used to water on her face)? The other thing that is ideal is just to take her often to the neighborhood pool, shallow end, just to let her play, play, play, and observe other kids in action. She’ll get it!!

    • Excellent ideas, which I should have known you would have, Shelby! I see a few goggle-baths in our future. =>

  3. Hi Stacia I was reading this and nodding my head all the way through because this is something I have debated at length and written about too – the decision at the time being about which preschool to send my daughter to and our ultimate decision to keep her at the school she loves which focuses on play and not push her. So I agree with Maxabella, it is out job to encourage, to reassure our children about their fears of something new but also to know when to back off and let them come around in their own time if talking it through is clearly not getting you anywhere. Better that than to put them off completely. But I think you always have to first try and talk it through and see if you can get to the bottom of what the issues are – is it a general dislike of swim class, or something specific they are doing that she does not like, or is it the instructor, or something else. Then you can figure out what is best to do.

    • Wow, I never thought to actually ask her about her reluctance. I just assumed it was her usual “hesitant-to-try-anything-I’m-not-used-to” personality, which I know very well because I am the same way!

  4. Her bathing suit is darling – and it’s great that you’re there to cheer her on despite your full hands.

    I think maybe because my daughter is my first that I have novelty on my side. So I am willing to be creative and try 20 different ways to get her comfortable with her fears or dislikes. It’s even a fun challenge. But ask me this again when we have baby number two. I may change my answer then, yet your ability to juggle the needs of all three of your kids tells me that it may be difficult but a little ingenuity (bribe/prize and all) goes a long way. Good luck on the next two classes 🙂

    • That’s her flamingo suit. There’s also the red flower suit, the pink flower suit, the solid pink suit, and the red-and-gold tankini that Daddy purchased during a bathing suit emergency and Mommy strenuously objects to. But if she’ll try what the instructor asks her to do?? Tankini it is. =>

  5. I think with this kind of stuff calm persistence is key. We have similar problems on other things with our son. Am I any good at calm persistence? Not on your life.

    • I’m the exact same way, Christine. I am constantly reminding myself that I am the one with patience. Not to mention, I forget that I have been swimming for years so it seems easy to me. But it’s actually quite hard, as evidenced by the flapping and floundering all the kids are doing as they try to get used to the water! =>

  6. Good job on getting the swimming lessons going, Stacia! In Arizona since there are swimming pools EVERYWHERE and there are numerous summer drownings, I put the ability to swim up there with the ability to wear a seatbelt – absolutely required! So my kids started at about age 2 and here and there they took a class they didn’t like but something amazing happened by just keeping at it – they learned.

    She doesn’t have to use goggles but she’ll probably prefer them. My daughter had dual lazy eyes that had to be corrected surgically before she was two and had these coke-bottle glasses, and those are what she swam in for her first lessons!

    I consider my children’s ability to swim beautifully and effortlessly now one of the great gifts I gave them as I sat sweating poolside for all those lessons!

    • Oh, boy, I hear you on all the sweating! And I absolutely agree about swimming being right up there with seatbelts. It’s a crucial skill, and as you said, if we keep at it, I know she’ll get it. I must keep telling myself this …

  7. Hmm, I think learning to swim really IS important for kids, but maybe she would do better in another type of class? Perhaps she feels uncomfortable or intimidated in a class setting with other children and she might do better taking private sessions with more one-on-one time at her own pace? Maybe sometimes she feels she is ahead of others and gets bored, OR she is not as comfortable/confident as others and doesn’t want to admit it, so she *acts* bored. Just a thought. It could just be the stubborn-and-don’t-want-to-try-anything-new thing, too! Good luck! 🙂

  8. Swim class is the worst for us too. I haven’t found the magic bullet yet, but she has to learn. Friends are inviting her to pool parties (at 5) and they know how to do it. And their pools are not safe for a wader. So, we keep trying. In fact, I spent too much on private classes this summer to see if we can get through the barrier.
    With baseball, it was consistency and coming early (so she was the first or second kid out there and got special attention). And if she’s tired, it’s all going down. No matter what I do.
    Isn’t it great to take your kid somewhere they have no desire to go? Good luck!

  9. Stacia,

    You described word for word the swim lesson experience for my daughter. In fact, as I was brushing her teeth tonight, my daughter asked if we were going to swim lessons tomorrow. To that I replied yes. And she went into full fledge crying mode. Like your daughter, she likes to splash, but something about swimming and lessons has her spooked. I am hoping she will turn the corner soon and make some progress. Sending some positive swim vibes your way.

  10. Yes to the lovely parting gift 🙂
    I have no answers to helping your children do the difficult stuff. At swimming I have gotten in the habit of not hearing any complaints unless they are real LOL. Also I take a good book to hide behind 😉

  11. My son was the kid on the steps for 28 out of his 30 minute swim lesson. I was distraught over the whole thing and when I reported to my husband that our son was totally dysfunctional at the pool, Dan said “he’s just cold.” Which was absolutely true. (we’ve been teaching him to swim at our local hot spring; all better)

    Also, I felt like he needed to learn to swim for fun and as a handy survival skill. But if he’s not ready, no pushing is going to help.

    Perhaps try again next summer?

  12. Persistence, I think, really is key. Though I’ve found that even with bribes and praise and reinforcement, kids do things in their own time. All the time. That’s probably been what’s surprised me most. I think it’s great she’s getting swim lessons, though. Not only is it fun in the water (well, for the most part) but I’m as old as I am and I can’t even dog-paddle. Hence, I love being in the water, but I’m deathly afraid of it.

  13. Oh, the growing pains. I’ve yet to get my son in a swim class, and I’m dreading it. I don’t know why… he jumps in the pool before I can even get my shoes off so someone always has to rescue him, even after telling him not to run or jump or please please please wait for me.

    Oh wait. That’s why I’m dreading it.

  14. I had a very, very similar struggle with my son and swimming lessons when he was 4. My husband and I kept “nudging” him and he was very reluctant to do what seemed to come so easily to the other kids. But gradually he got into it. He tends to need time to warm up, to feel he can trust his caregivers. I think that nudging + patience is important – they will eventually come around unless the activity is something that is clearly not suited for them…good luck with the next couple of weeks!

  15. Hey Stacia–bet you did not know that my college summers were spent being a life guard and teaching countless little ones how to swim. I have some advice for how you and hubby should act to help all three little ones love the water. #1:Do not hold them too tightly in the bath or the pool. You transfer a fear, that you may not know you have, to your little ones–even the littlest one. Be respectful and constantly aware of the water and its dangers (afterall, that is why you want them to swim) but not fearful. #2: Throw away the floaties!! Better to use those not-so-pretty suits with the flotation built in. Floaties hold their arms up in a position that is not conducive to the movement arms need to make to swim. In these suits they get a feel for the water holding them up so they become more secure and can move their arms and legs in the right way. #3:Do not wipe eyes when they are splashed and do not grab them up and go all motherey when they get a little choked. Make light of both. If you make either of those a big deal, you can give up on swimming for a few years. #4:Have plenty of play time in the pool with you guys close but not holding them close. Hold on to a hand, a finger, a toe, but not the whole child. Point out what other kids are doing, but not in a put-down way. Don’t rush or push anything. It WILL happen!
    Wish I were there to help you out. Don’t stress out over the lessons. Encourage but don’t get nuts. The instructor is fine with it–otherwise he would not be a child’s instructor. No gift at the end needed; no apologies needed (especially in earshot of the kids). Love and good luck to you all–Ms. Young
    ps I can tell by Lollipop’s comments that she is just a creative as her mother!

  16. The line about her loving her variety of swimsuits just cracked me up.

    We are working on encouraging our 4.5 year-old to eat some new foods — really crazy things like watermelon, pasta, carrots, green beans, lunchmeat sandwiches . . . and by encouraging, I mean bribing. We have said that if he tries five new foods, we will buy the caterpillar/butterfly farm thing he is obsessed with (talks about it every day, lovingly strokes the Toys R’ Us ad in which said item is featured).

    No progress yet though. I offered some watermelon yesterday, reminding him of the butterfly farm, and he offered his new refusal line: “Um, I’m still getting the hang of that one.”

    I say “yes” on the instructor gift because I think such gifts are rare but very appreciated.

  17. Swim class is hard. It is really hard to coerce your child when they’re in the water and you’re out. Doubly hard if you’re out of the water and distracted by a sibling or two. Good luck!

  18. Oh, lady. Honestly? I stopped taking my kid to swim lessons because he hated them so much. He learned to swim on his own after years of lifejackets and floaties in the pool. I guess my theory is (was), is it worth it? And if it’s not, then I don’t push it. If it is (and swimming lessons may well be), then I hold my center and realize it won’t be forever. That’s all I’ve got!

  19. You know, we had a heck of a time getting the Mini into real lessons. He loved his swim classes as a baby, but once he had to learn all of the basics, he wanted no part of it. Then we realized we were dealing with sensory issues and a possible spectrum kid, so his swim instructor, who is trained to work with ASD kids, told me to sign him up with her, because the water is the best place for him. He went from a stubborn kid, who refused to put his face in the water, to a kid that I just watched swim half way across the width of the pool, without a floatie, and he’s 3.5. Amazing.

    So, maybe private lessons from a very patient teacher?

  20. “It’s been my distinct privilege this past week to drag my daughter to a swim class she doesn’t want to attend,” might very well be one of the best opening sentences EVER.

    I’m fortunate to be as privileged as you are this summer. With both girls. Such a great financial investment…

  21. I’m really trying not to laugh but, seriously? This is too awesome. Even though I know it’s so frustrating for you. Gosh. She is cute at least, right??

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