Help! January 31, 2012

Okay, I have hit a parenting wall and I am hoping that some of you will be able to advise me.

My older four children take a swimming lesson every Tuesday afternoon.  In the past, my younger ones have sort of hung out poolside, been a little bit of a discipline problem while waiting or played with other kids who were waiting.  Right now, though, I would also like them to learn to swim.

I didn’t want to come to the pool on a different day for a preschool lesson, so I arranged a private lesson to coincide with the big kid lesson.  For 6 weeks, my boys happily participated in their private lesson.  The cost was substantial, but I figured that they were getting better instruction in a private and I was getting a convenient time slot, so it was worth it.

Gradually, over the last three weeks, my 4 year old has been refusing to participate.  The first week, he wanted to get out early, when about 10 minutes of the lesson remained.  The next week, he refused to get in, and again missed 10 minutes of the 30 minute lesson.  This time, as soon as the instructor came into sight, he buried his head in my lap.  I told him it was time for swimming and he said he “needed Mommy.”  I offered to sit at the side of the pool, but he wouldn’t come out of my lap.  Then, I took him into a private area and told him in strong tone that this was unacceptable and he needed to do his swimming lesson.  At that point, he burst into tears.  I sat him down on a bench and he proceeded to cry for the entire half hour, sometimes kicking the bleachers and sometimes screaming that he wanted to sit in my lap.  The people around me were horrified.  Meanwhile, the 3 year old happily went about his swimming lesson.

At the very end the tantrum stopped and he told his teacher that he would swim next week, but then again in the locker room a few minutes later he told me that he doesn’t want to do swimming lessons anymore.

What do I do?  I can’t make him get in the pool, and I hate the idea of continuing to pay for lessons while he is not participating.  However, if he gets to sit in my lap while the other 5 kids are all in lessons, I feel like he will have won the power struggle?  Plus, I really need him to learn to swim, we have a pool in our backyard.  But maybe I should just give it time? Do I try again next week, or should I just withdraw from the session and get my money back?  Was it just a bad day, combined with the fact that I did let him get out early that time a few weeks ago, and now he is trying to see how far he can take it?

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  • Rightsaidred Builder

    Some random thoughts here, so please disregard those that are not helpful or do not suit your personality or his.nn1.u00a0 Is it possible that something happened at swimming to make him feel fear or a dislike of the water and his lessons?u00a0 I had one child that refused to swim because the instructor pushed her too hard and she became very afraid (she was 5).u00a0 If this is the problem, I’d consider offering a reward for his participation in the lesson.u00a0 I’d also talk to him about how swimming at the pool is safe and nobody will let him go under for too long.nn2.u00a0 Is it possible that you are generally having a discipline problem with said 4 year old child?u00a0 If so, perhaps swimming is just one manifestation of that struggle.u00a0 If this is the case, I would be harder on him, and possibly come up with a serious punishment for not participating (or a reward for his younger brother because he did his swimming lesson), and in general consider punishing him more severely for infractions that are not swimming related.u00a0 If you do decide that withdrawing him from the lessons is necessary, I’d make the experience uncomfortable for him (perhaps making him wait outside with you and sit silently for the time of the lesson).u00a0 nn3.u00a0 In the same line as #2, perhaps he needs more attention from you, and this is his way of getting that attention.u00a0 If this is the case, allowing him to sit on your lap during the lesson would be a reward, and counterproductive.u00a0 I’d consider giving him more attention for participating in his lesson.u00a0 Maybe tomorrow you can give his baby brother extra “story time” because he was a good boy for swimming.u00a0 See if L then changes his mind and wants to swim.nn4.u00a0 Finally, I would “punish” him while you are at the lesson.u00a0 For example, make him sit somewhere uncomfortable (not on your lap), and generally make the time unhappy for him, so that he knows not participating is miserable.u00a0 I would also consider an immediate reward for the other kids who do swim (lollipops, a snack, etc.,) so that he feels left out and wants to swim.nn5.u00a0 Lastly, if all these things fail, I would withdraw him from the lessons for a period of time, and make him do something that is “uncomfortable” during the lesson time.u00a0 I would then “try again” in two months.u00a0 He probably won’t be independent in the water this summer anyway, right?u00a0 So losing out on a couple of months isn’t going to be the end of the world.u00a0 Most 4 year old children don’t learn to swim well enough to be safe in the water anyway.

  • JMB

    We have a pool too and in my experience, no matter how many or fewu00a0 lessons my children took, they all learned to swim between 5 and 6.nThat said, I would let the child take a pass.u00a0 What’s the point here?u00a0 If it is about the $, so what.u00a0 You can tell the Y a fib and say he has an ear infection and you may get a full refund.u00a0 Or you can just write it off as a loss.u00a0 Or you can make him take the lesson so you don’t lose the money.u00a0 What sounds most charitable here?u00a0 Sometimes you have to walk away.nI think back at some of my worst parenting moments and decisions, and invariably it was about me exerting my will on a child.u00a0 I thought the child was ready to ride a bike, or learn how to read, or sit still during an Easter Vigil Mass, or whatever.u00a0 It was all about ME and what I wanted.u00a0 Save your exertion over a child until you really need it, like when they are a teenager and they HAVE to get up every morning at 6:15 to make the bus to school and then stay after school to practice a sport or whatever.u00a0 That’s when you need to exert your will on your child.u00a0 But at that point, they can do it.

  • Jada_jo

    Our son did the same thing at age 4 and he was in a group lesson that our local swim had.u00a0 We continued to have him go (our older daughter was in another group) but he spent many nights on the side of the pool.u00a0 Around age 5 he did get better.u00a0 Nothing ever happened at practice it just seemed to be his maturity level.u00a0 He is now in kindergarten and we have had some “maturity” issues again…..hopefully, he will also grow out of this.

  • Mary Alice

    The Y will give me a refund for the upcoming lessons if I withdraw him, so the only money question is about taking another try next week, in which case we have lost another class’s worth of the money if he does not participate.nnMy children have all learned to swim at different times, and while some of it had to do with natural athleticism, the ones who had consistent lessons learned sooner.u00a0 I agree that it is unusual to get an independent swimmer before age 5, but I have had kids make it to 7 without being strong in the pool, and I have also had 5 year olds who were ready for swim team.nnI tend to feel the way you do about most things, I don’t know why I am pushing it, except that I think that this is more about parenting then it is about swimming, I think Red hit the nail right on the head.u00a0 nnI think it is #2 and #3 on your list going on.u00a0 He loves swimming and his instructor and jumped into the pool, into her arms, as soon as the lesson time was over!u00a0 It was bizarre.u00a0 I did make him sit alone on a bench during the lesson and he was in “time out” for the entire lesson — I was shocked, frankly, that he had the will to keep up his fake crying for the entire 30 minutes.u00a0 I think he needs both more direction and more attention, so perhaps I will try to focus on that this week, and also “sweeten” the deal by offering a treat for the swimmers.nnThe instructor also offered to move up the time of the lesson slightly so that they are in the pool as soon as we arrive rather than waiting while the older kids start their (longer) lesson — perhaps this will help, and I will be sure to give him a snack before we go so that I know he is fresh and up for it.u00a0 There was a litany of excuses today as well, his goggles were too tight, then too loose, then his back itched, then he was hot, then cold.u00a0 It was ridiculous!

  • B-mama

    If you think it’s a discipline/attention-getting issue, I would leave the lessons altogether. u00a0Can you do this? u00a0Let him know that coming out to you is not an option–lessons are the only choice. u00a0My guess is that all of this behavior will stop once you’re out of the picture. u00a0I bet he’ll fuss for under 5 minutes and then be over it.

  • Mary Alice

    Wow, that would take a leap of faith for me, and I might have to talk to the instructor first, if I am just going to leave her with the upset child who doesn’t want to participate — I think you are probably right that it will go better without me there, but she will not be able to teach Jimmy if she is negotiating with L?u00a0 I just might try it.nnAt the YW, they actually don’t let the parents stay, probably for this very reason.

  • Rightsaidred Builder

    This is an excellent suggestion.

  • Awollsc

    We live in the Dallas area and half our extended family (and neighbors) have pools in their backyards. u00a0We start lessons at 2-years-old and last summer my barely 3-year-old could swim the length of the pool on his own. u00a0(Of course, I would never leave him outside by himself, but I was totally comfortable with his ability if he were to fall in, etc.) u00a0The people we use for swim lessons (the same ones my parents took us to!) are “tough love” teachers. u00a0If the child is screaming/refusing to participate they require the parent to leave and 9 out of 10 times, it works. u00a0They also continue to force the kids to participate (they will even push the older kids into the water if they won’t jump or get in). u00a0Some people are uncomfortable with the tough love approach, but for me swimming is a matter of safety. u00a0The kids can swim when they finish 2 weeks (8 days) of lessons and they always end up hugging the teachers by the end of the first week. u00a0Good luck!

  • Jen E Andrews

    Thank you for sharing this problem and so many creative resolutions with your readers. I learned a lot that I can apply to some of my own parenting struggles.u00a0

  • Anonymous

    I have had one child for whom I had to leave the lessons. If he ever saw me peek in he dissolved in a puddle of tears again.u00a0nnBut kids do develop differently, especially with different temperaments…our 3 year old learned to swim across the pool and jump off the diving board last summer, while our 4 year old did not.u00a0

  • Kathy

    With our 3 daughters we have had this scenario come up with different tactics tried by us and different outcomes.u00a0nnDD#1 – Went to Mommy and me classes from age 6 mos – 3yrs. Then we prepped her for going to the class while I watched. During the class she would cry and call out to me to take her out. As hard as it was I shook my head. It got better each week. She is 11 and a fabulous swimmernnDD#2 – Same intro to the pool as DD#1 – when it came time for her to graduate – she took to it with no problem or crying. Perhaps because she is a Pisces (the fish) and Ariel the little Mermaid’s #1 fan is why we had no trauma that time.u00a0nnDD#3 – Same intro as DDs #1 and #2. When it came time for the alone class, she was a little reticent but was okay. Did well for 2 8 week sessions. THEN she got something in her head that she didn’t want to swim anymore. We had a TOUGH time like you MA getting her to do the lessons. YMCA advised not to force. We wound up going back to an older child Mommy and me class (we jokingly called it remedial swimming). After a year she asked to go to the big girl lessons and did fine. When reluctance set in again, I offered all girls who went to swim lessons a snack from the vending machine. She got the message really fast when her sisters received snacks but she didn’t as she did not do her class. After the fall 2011 class ended, she asked not to be signed up again until Spring. We told her about water safety and how one needs to know how to swim. She said she would do it in the spring. We’ll see how it goes. She just turned 5.u00a0nnLike all the moms it came down to how much stress I wanted to make a fun and beneficial experience. This is how it is working for now.u00a0nnGood luck with it MA, like many here – I feel your pain (or stress). It is not easy.u00a0

  • Mary Alice

    Well, said 4 year old slept for 3 hours this afternoon, so perhaps he was hitting up on some sort of exhaustion or a little bug?u00a0 No symptoms, but maybe he hit a wall, too.u00a0 I am going to try again next week and see how it goes.u00a0 I will post an update!

  • Amy B

    nnI used to teach swimming lessons for a number of years whennI was younger.u00a0 I always went with the u201ctoughnloveu201d approach as well because water safety is so important.u00a0 (Though I never threw a kid in, they did notnhave the option of staying out of the water.u00a0nIt helped that the parents left their children.)u00a0 I thought this was an ok approach until I metnmy husband.u00a0 He had a very tough swimninstructor as a child, and he thinks that this might be part of the reason whynhe never learned to swim well and never grew to like the water.u00a0 He is not a softy either.u00a0 Now I am afraid to push too hard with my ownnkids because I donu2019t want it to negatively affect their ability to swim.u00a0 I guess I would caution pushing toonmuch.u00a0 I would agree though that leavingnthe room might fix the problem.u00a0 u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0nnn

  • Lauramize

    My second son (age 4.5 at the time) was terrified when he began swim lessons.u00a0 His brother (age 6) was also taking lessons at the same time and he loved it.u00a0 My 4.5 yo liked it the first day, but freaked out for the next couple of days.u00a0 I could tell that he was genuinely scared; he was begging me not to make him go back around the clock.u00a0 I never thought of it as a discipline problem.u00a0 I can understand the fear of knowing that you’re in water over your head and knowing that you have to perform what the teacher says, and despite how nice a teacher might seem, not having an attachment/built-up trustu00a0with him/her.u00a0 We let our son quit and didn’t do any punishing or prohibiting rewards (this seemed to me like rubbing his face in his real, age-appropriate fear).u00a0 To my amazement a few weeks later, he taught himself how to swim in the shallow section of our neighborhood pool and continued to become a better swimmer throughout the summer.u00a0 By the end of his self-taught summer (and a few “lessons” with dad), he was allu00a0over the deep end and jumping off the board.nnEach child is so unique.u00a0 I think my son just didn’t do well with the pressure of having to swim in water over his head when an instructor said so.u00a0 While it’s frustrating when they don’t react the way we would hope, it’su00a0a blessing that our children be able to communicate their fears and feelings with us.u00a0 nnWe don’t have a pool in our backyard, so for us the lessons weren’t critical.u00a0 The following year, this same son had much longer-than-expected separation anxiety with going to kindergarten.u00a0 Unlike the swim lessons, we didn’t feel that dropping out of kindergarten was an option, so together with his loving teacher (she wasu00a0our angel), we nurtured him through it and he finally adjusted really well.nnOne thought for your son, perhaps could he be allowed to attend his lesson by sitting on the side of the pool with his feet in the water?u00a0 Then, without any pressure, he could control his level of participation.u00a0 At a minimum, he’d probably get something out of just observing.nnBest wishes.

  • Mary Alice

    Another friend, who has a similar parenting style to mine (not as tough as Red, but not a total softy either), just told me that she has left all of her kids for their lessons, and sometimes handed them off to the teacher crying.u00a0 This sort of shocked me, but also gave me the courage to give it a try.u00a0 I do think he will do better without me there, because it does feel like a manipulation more than real fear.u00a0 If he cries the whole time with just the instructor this week, though, we will give it a pass for two months and try again after another session.