M is two. She’s never been in water before, aside from the bath tub. She likes baths and Minnie Mouse, so her Minnie Mouse swimming suit is the bee’s knees. My husband enrolled her in swimming lessons because it is a) time for her to get acquainted and comfortable in water b) a fun family activity c) relatively affordable. The first lesson, M screamed the entire 30 minutes. She clung to my husband for dear life. I’m surprised he still has any hearing left. The second lesson was better! She vocalized her feelings (“Get out, Dada!” “Dry off, Mama!” “Go home!”), but didn’t cry and sort of participated. Everyone was optimistic!
Unfortunately, her comfort level has not improved, it has greatly diminished. Now, not only is she terrified of the swimming pool, she also protests bath time. We now perform “standing baths”. In other words, she stands in the tub screaming while one of us quickly scrubs her down. If bath time is a disaster, imagine a 100-foot long, 3-foot deep tub!
On Wednesday night, M reached her limit (and ours). Before she even got undressed at the pool, she was scared. She refused to participate at all in the lesson. She screamed. She clung to me. She wouldn’t even sing Twinkle Twinkle, her favorite jam! Her little teeth were chattering. After 15 minutes, B and I surrendered. It was time to take a break for a while. We whisked her out of the pool while everyone else sang “Wheels on the Bus”.
Originally, I was adamant about staying in the lessons. I don’t want M to learn that if she doesn’t like something or it scares her, she can quit. I want to raise her to be resilient; I want her to persistent and persevere. That was when she was improving. Now, she was nothing but terrified. Here are my thoughts in that cold water Wednesday night.
I don’t want her to think she can just quit when she’s uncomfortable
I know this sounds ridiculous since she’s only two. I really don’t want to inadvertently teach her that if she protests loud enough, we will let her quit whenever she doesn’t like something. That’s not how life works. But she’s only two, and this is just for swimming lessons right now. At home, we are very consistent with discipline and behavioral expectations. We will try swimming lessons again soon(ish).
Her fear impeded on her learning
She wasn’t getting anything from the class. Because she was so scared, she basically just clung to one of us while we stood in the water, watched, and tried to convince her otherwise. She was not having fun and getting more comfortable. She was not learning how to move her arms, her legs, or that life jackets are cool. She was just afraid.
By forcing her, she was becoming less trusting of her parents
I want M to always trust her Mama and Dada. I want her to always know we have her best interests and well-being in mind. Yes, sometimes that does mean challenging her comfort levels. However, she’s only two. She doesn’t have that level of critical thinking yet. Her world is so black and white: safe vs. unsafe, good vs. bad. These are life lessons that I will save for when she is a little older. For now, I want her to always trust us and feel safe with us.
If she ever feels uncomfortable or unsafe, I want her to speak up and feel heard.
Ever day, we talked up swimming lessons. We kept telling her how fun it would be, how cool swimming is, how great her teacher is. Then she would get in the water and see otherwise and be (very) vocal about it. Then, we would repeatedly take her back. Even though we know she is safe, she didn’t feel that way and she kept telling us that. I don’t want her to think we are ignoring her feelings.
It wasn’t fun for her
Swimming lessons are supposed to be fun and help kids be comfortable and confident in the water. M felt the opposite: terrified, cold, and unsafe. Perhaps in six months, we will try again. My current mission? Convince her bath time is fun.