Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What To Do About Swimming

I'm stuck in one of those indecisive parent spots. The ones where you can see things both ways and you aren't sure which action is the right one - or if there is a right one.

Daniel is taking swimming lessons through a local swim school. Brenna took this same class last year and we were very impressed. In just 8 lessons she went from being timid in the water to floating, swimming, and jumping in. She still needs a lot of practice, but she gained a ton of confidence. She was six when she took the class.

With that experience, we decided to sign Daniel up for lessons this May. We hoped it would give him a good start to the summer. He is two weeks from his fourth birthday. We did not expect him to get as far as Brenna did, but we did expect him to gain confidence. Several things have gone "wrong" with his lessons.

First, the weather has been cold and often rainy. While his lesson is indoors, it's a very cold, shivery, long walk back to the van.

Second, he's going through a strange shy-attachment phase and is actually crying and clinging every day when I drop him off. The teachers are wonderful about firmly taking him into the water so I can leave. I can see through the window that he quickly calms down after I'm gone. However, he spends all morning dreading swim class and as soon as we pull in the parking lot, he starts whimpering. I have to almost drag him down the sidewalk and sometimes pull him in the door. It's not a full blown temper tantrum, but it's very strong resistance. This is not like him at all.

Third, his teacher for the first four lessons left for an internship out of the country this past weekend. So Monday he started with a new teacher. This new teacher is training someone else as well. And guess what. The new teacher won't be there for the last lesson so the trainee will have to take over. All of this is particularly aggravating because the last day is supposed to be 'Parent Day'. One parent actually gets in the water with the child and learns all the things they've been working on. This is such a big deal, that Michael took a half day of personal leave so he could do this with Daniel. Since the teacher won't be there for the last lesson, she moved Parent Day to the day before. Meaning Michael can't come and yours truly has to do it. I suppose Carrie will just sit and watch from her stroller. Michael can't change his day off at this point - a substitute has already been arranged.

Fourth, teacher number one did not notice that Daniel was not learning to breathe properly as he mastered his techniques. Meaning, he's swallowing a lot of air and water. So much air and water that his belly gets hard and he has huge belches in the water. When he floats on his back, the air in his belly rises and it hurts - a lot.

Today, when I came to pick him up from class, his teacher asked him to show me what they had worked on. He had to do the first technique twice to get it semi-right. The second, however, he kept opening his mouth and sinking under water. She insisted that he'd done it right before and she kept asking him to do it again. She told him that she knew his belly hurt but he just had to do it right once and then he could go. He was shivering something terrible and every time he put his head down, I'd see him take in a bunch of water and then cough and choke. I understood why she was insisting, but it was hard to watch. She continued to do this, even cutting into the next person's lesson time. Finally, he half-way did what she wanted and she set him up on the side of the pool.

I sent Daniel to put his shoes on and crouched down so the teacher could tell me about what she expects to do in tomorrow's lesson. While she was talking....Daniel threw up most of his lunch and quite a bit of water.

Now I know that some things we do are just plain hard. They take a lot failure before we get it right. When you fall off a bike, you gotta get back on it and try again. I'm definitely not a softy when it comes to insisting my kids keep trying.

But in this particular situation, I've begun to wonder if we're doing more harm than good. Am I creating a strong dislike for the water? Should I even take him back for the last two classes? I wonder if it's important to take him back so he learns to 'get right back at it' or if this is when you say as a parent "enough is enough".

Neither Michael nor I are strong swimmers. We both learned what little we know taking a mandatory beginners swim class in college. Swimming lessons were important to us for our kids because of the safety aspect. Mostly, we want them to be safe in the water. But more than that, we both want them to enjoy the water, especially since we didn't as kids. Ideally, we'd love for them to be able to play with Emmy, Sarah, and Ashley in the pool when we go to Tennessee or at Nana's house. We want to worry a tad less when we're at Pop and Pemmy's home on the river. We're aiming for confident enjoyment of water.

That's going to take time, I know. But in these two weeks of lessons, with an almost four year old, do we keep at it? or do we cut our losses and try again another year?

Any thoughts? wisdom? similar stories?


Ginger said...

So, so very hard! We've been exactly there too. I hate being in that position where I would GLADLY do the BEST thing - if I could just figure out what that is!!! argh. I don't know what to say, except - trust your Mommy instinct. You know your child better than anybody, any swim teacher or spectator, or well-meaning friend. Go with your gut.

Jennifer said...

Oh Julie, that's a hard one. Reagan has much the same reaction to her lessons, as did Jonah at that age. I will say, that I think it was last year that Jonah made the most progress. He was 3 when we started and did lessons each summer at ages 3, 4, and 5. I think at ages 3 and 4 he did learn some and overall was safer in the water, but REALLY made progress last year and now is like a total fish. We just figured we would do the same game plan with Reagan, but like you, don't really know if it's "right" or not. I totally see your side....but at the same time, it's hard to know when it's too much vs them just not liking something. I kind of feel like if you are this sick over the choice, to just quit now and talk to the school owner about it. They might help you figure it out.Plus, it's a LOT of money to walk away dissatisfied, especially when you see how it really does work, thanks to Brenna. It might just be a timing thing. Hang in there! I hate these situations!

Anonymous said...

I am a firm believer as a teacher that I can make or break a student. I want all my students to succeed so I do my best to make the experience a positive one. Daniel is in a negative situation at this point at the swimming pool. How I would handle this would be to take Daniel out of the lessons, but not out of the pool. I would have someone who Daniel is familiar with, who can spend some quality time and patience with Daniel, teach him some swimming techniques to build his confidence in the water. Someone who can make the experience fun and Daniel can trust them. (and trust that he won't get sick from being in the water.) Maybe Beck, Stephen, Chris, Kristin... someone that would guarentee Daniel an experience that he would want to return to the water ... and possible future lessons.


Mary Ann said...

Julie, I think Suz has the right idea. When Jim, Emma, Brenna & I spent the weekend in Hampton (May 08), we went to the pool several times. Emma was swimming like a fish. Brenna & I sat on a step with our feet in the water. When she was comfortable we moved down 1 step at a time. Then we stood and held on to the low end moving from side to side. She was enjoying the water. She was so proud when she let go of the side and kept walking back and forth by herself while Grandma watched. Jim came down to the pool and I went upstairs to get our munchies together. An hour later Jim & the girls returned to the room. In that time frame Brenna had dunked her head under water and had tried to swim.
Brenna was so very comfortable with us in the pool, but Brenna was really inspired by Emma, who gently tried to teach Brenna some moves in the water (when she wasn't swimming the length of the pool).
Since Daniel got sick last time, I also think he should not go back right now for lessons. Let him enjoy the edge of the pool, watching the other kids swimming, just might inspire Daniel as it inspired Brenna 2 years ago. Mary Ann