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Is this really progress?

nemo-1-1Many of you have probably seen my daughter running around the swim center. She is often in the water, playing or “teaching” alongside my staff. She is constantly asking to go swim. It doesn’t matter if she swam an hour ago; she is always ready to jump in. If you watch her in the water, she is a little fish and can hold her breath for a ridiculously long amount of time. Her strokes aren’t perfect, but she has the foundation to become a talented young swimmer. But, it was not always that way. About two years ago, Lilah hit a rough patch in lessons. She had been swimming since she was four weeks old and had always loved the water, but suddenly she didn’t want to do it and she looked like she was drowning half the time. She just wasn’t making any progress and, what was worse, is that she seemed to dislike swimming more each time. This was a child who was at the pool all the time and was a total fish, yet she wasn’t grasping the basics and she cried at every lesson. She refused to roll to her back, she wouldn’t kick, and she screamed when it was time to start her class. It was frustrating for Lilah, Miss Katie, and me, and left us all wondering where to go from there.

Every day I see kids in this same situation. They sit on the steps crying, they scream when they are on their back, and flail their arms and legs in protest. I also see anxious parents staring at their child through the glass. The look in these parent’s eyes is one I’ve come to recognize and dread; it’s the look of a parent who is about to pull their child out of swimming lessons because they don’t think the child is making progress and they don’t want to force them to do it if they hate it.

Lilah swim team award

Lilah at the 2014 SC Swim Team awards banquet

When I experienced this with my own child, I was faced with the decision of letting her take a break or pushing through. I seriously considered taking her out of lessons, simply because I did not want to make her do something she obviously didn’t like. Then a few things occurred to me about this situation; 1) she wasn’t being hurt or permanently damaged by sticking it out, 2) I’m the parent and I needed to make the decision instead of letting her make it, and 3) swimming is a life-saving skill and therefore I couldn’t let it be an option to quit. So the next day I walked her out on deck, handed her to Katie, and walked away. She cried and Katie dealt with it. I hid in the back of the viewing area where she couldn’t see me and I didn’t have to watch her cry. This continued for a few weeks. And then one day, she stopped crying. Two years later, Lilah is capable of swimming the full length of the big pool, she can do all four competitive strokes, and she could save herself if she were ever in a life-threatening situation. But if you had asked me two years ago if I thought she would ever swim, I would have said no.

Even though she was crying and didn’t look like she was progressing, she was actually learning quite a bit. By making her push through, she learned several life skills,

  • She learned to stick with something, even if she did not always enjoy it.
  • She learned that just because she doesn’t like something, it doesn’t mean it’s all bad or scary.
  • And most importantly, she learned that swimming is a priority and she had to do it.

Not only did she learn important life skills, but she also started showing basic swimming skills and, before we knew it, she pushed through her fears and was actually swimming. I didn’t let her take a break and I made the decision that her safety was more important than allowing her to quit because she didn’t like it.

If I had allowed her to quit when she wanted to, I would have been putting her in greater danger than if I had never introduced her to water and she was fearful. Because a child who is afraid of water is not going to try swimming on their own, but a child who has had some lessons is likely to have a false sense of confidence and think they can swim when they really cannot. These are the children who terrify me. The three year old who thinks he can swim is more likely to try it on his own than a child who is afraid. I would rather hear that a child has never taken lessons and is afraid than to hear that they took some lessons but then quit.

What I’m really trying to say is that if you are considering letting your child take a break, please take a moment to consider all the facts before withdrawing. Is your child swimming at a Turtles level or lower? Does your child think he can swim, but doesn’t really have the ability? Is she curious about water? Will you be in an environment where a pool is easily accessible? Does he try to swim without adult assistance or flotation? Is she a daredevil?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I would urge you to keep your child enrolled in swimming lessons year-round until they are swimming proficiently and have an understanding of the dangers of water and pools. Make learning to swim a priority. Show your children that you believe it is important. Stick with it and I promise the benefits will outweigh the tears!

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