Now that summer has wound down for all intents and purposes, I've been reflecting a bit about what we did and learned. One of the more harrowing summer events for both me and my oldest son was swimming lessons.
There's a great indoor pool within walking distance of our house that offered swimming lessons all summer long for $30 a session. The price could not be beat! So I signed poor Owen up since he was the only one of our children who fit within the age requirements.
I knew it would be bad, we had him in lessons this winter and he cried and complained the whole time. I braced myself for the worst, but even I didn't realize just how bad it would be this time around.
The thing is, our son just wasn't comfortable going all the way under water. In the classes he took a few months ago they were more gradual with the whole process. They blew bubbles in the water, kicked, started to learn some basic floating; then the very last skill they practiced was jumping in the water. When they jumped in, the teacher would let them go under for a brief second before catching them.
Because of our travel schedule this summer, I was only able to sign him up for the final session of lessons: so maybe they were a bit more gradual in the first weeks. His teachers started every class off by making each child bob under water 3 times. This sent my boy into hysterics! He screamed his head off and refused to do it--so his teacher did it with him. Afterwards he continued to scream, cry, and refuse to do anything his teacher asked of him.
Owen became very skilled in the art of stalling. Once we got to the pool he would immediately request to go to the bathroom (which confused me because he always went before we left the house). One morning, I decided to be all tough love on him, and I told him "NO". He then promptly proceeded to poop in his pants.
I was humiliated. I considered just giving up on the lessons, but what kind of lesson would that teach my child. "Son, when things get hard, when you feel like you're in over your head, and you feel out of control, just give up." I knew this experience wouldn't kill him (maybe just scar him a little), so I decided we'd soldier on.
The first person I had to deal with was myself. Of course I wanted my boy to succeed in swimming, but mostly I just wanted him to stop screaming, crying, and causing a general ruckus in the middle of the aquatic center. I was embarrassed. I was annoyed. I was angry. How had I failed in my mothering and nurturing of him to such an extent that he was afraid of the water?
Whoa now Renee! This whole thing is not about you and your real or imagined failures. Stop thinking about what all the other moms with the adventurous and fearless little tykes think of your parenting chops, and start actually helping your son.
Well, telling him to stop crying over and over again was NOT helping. I tried assuring him that he wouldn't drown since mommy and his teacher were both watching him like a hawk. We talked about being brave at home and prayed on our walk to the pool every morning, but fear still had him paralyzed.
Then one morning my neighborhood mom friend randomly came over and talked to Owen while he was having one of his mini panic attacks. Instead of telling him to calm down and assuring him that everything was going to be ok, she asked him to tell her the names of his classmates. Then she showed him how to cheer for them and encourage them while he was waiting to get in the water. Genius I tell you!
Immediately he calmed way down. He watched his classmates, and he got to know a few of them. It was like a giant light bulb went off in his head--there are other people in my class besides me and they are going through the same thing I am. That realization was enough to break through his shell of self-pity and fear.
I'm not going to say that everyday after that was rainbows and roses, but it was a start. Finally I knew where to start. Helping him to get his eyes off of himself, and onto others was the first step in overcoming his fear. By the end of his sessions, he hadn't mastered every skill, but he had been able to attempt to do everything his teachers asked of him calmly; that was HUGE!