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What Swimming Lessons Taught Me About Parenting

“Don’t rescue your child from a challenge. Teach them how to face it.” -Dr. Laura

For the past three years we have spent our summers going to the same swim teacher. She is a grandma who has been coaching swim out of her home for many, many years and she is, what we younger generation would call, a “tough love” kind of lady. In the three years our children have been going to her they have learned invaluable lessons of swim survival. But what strikes me as more unusual is that we as parents have learned just as much, but not about swimming, we have learned all about parenting.

Here is what swimming lessons taught me about parenting…

Don’t be afraid of a crying baby. Our daughter, who is 20 months (going on 20 years), first liked the idea of going into the pool, but once she found out it was not just to play she let everyone know how upsetting this was for her. For the entire 30 minute lesson she would cry, scream, kick, try to get out of the pool, the list goes on…But here is what our teacher said “Don’t be afraid of a crying baby.” Something so simple, yet profound. As parents, we are often afraid of our own children crying or making a scene. We do not want to be “that parent” with “that kid.” But let me tell you, from experience, that if you are doing a good job as a parent it will be inevitable that your child, at one point or another, WILL cry or make a scene (especially in public). So relax, stay calm and do not be afraid of that crying baby. After about the fifth lesson our daughter finally realized that I was not going to cave into her crying and that we were going to continue with our lessons. She finally didn’t spend the entire 30 minutes crying and started to enjoy herself. By our last class she did not even cry once and loved doing the required activities (well, almost all of them).

(First week of swim lessons vs. last week of swim lessons)
(First week of swim lessons vs. last week of swim lessons)

Stop asking so many questions. Our very first lesson we got into the pool and our teacher, let’s call her Ms. Connie, told us to start practicing back floats with our children (it was a parent and me class). I think my husband was actually in the pool this day and he asked our son “Want to try your back float?” Ms. Connie heard that and had no problem telling my husband “Why are you asking him if he wants to try his back float?” She then went on to explain to us that our son probably did not want to do the back float because it was new and possibly scary for him. So why give him an option if it is something he HAS to learn? When it is a skill that could save his life there is no other option. From that day forward we learned to say “Show me your back float.” Then, even if he cried, we would praise him for practicing the skill. I feel like this began a new trend for us outside of the pool. Instead of saying things like “Do you want to get dressed?” or “Do you want to eat?” It has turned into “Let’s go get dressed.” And “It’s time to eat.” We may still give our kids options after those statements, like what shirt he would like to wear, but not asking so many questions has really been so helpful for all of us.

Be specific/Do not use too many words. When you have young kids, you really want to keep things simple. Ms. Connie would correct us all the time when we were being too vague or using way too much verbage for something so simple. To do a skill she would encourage us to tell the kids; “Jump in, turn over, back float. Then say ‘up please.’” When they finished a skill she reminded us to not only praise them by saying “good girl/good boy,” she would encourage us to praise them for that specific task like, “good kickers” or “great back float.” This is, yet again, another tool we have implemented at home. Keep things simple and be praise specific.

Stop asking if your child is ok. Now, before you get your feathers all ruffled, I don’t think this is true in all cases, so just hear me out. There are going to be things in life that our children are not going to like, but is for their safety, like learning to swim. In these instances, Ms. Connie suggested to stop asking them if they are ok, because chances are if you give them an option to not be ok then they will take it. Instead, if you do not even suggest that they might not be ok, then they will never know and probably do better. Like I said earlier, we tend to ask too many questions of our children, when you give them less questions and more direction they tend to do better.

Be the parent, NOT the friend. Ms. Connie taught a lot of things, but this really rang true to me (especially in this day and age). Our children will have lots of friends in their lives, but what they really need is to have a parent to teach them right from wrong. I think we can all remember at one point or another not liking our parents, but it was probably because they were doing something to keep us safe, to protect us, or to teach us a valuable lesson. Now that we are parents, I have to admit, it is so hard to watch our kids be disappointed or sad when they don’t get the toy they want, or when they don’t want to hold our hand when they cross the street. But it is for their own benefit that we teach them these life lessons. If we don’t do it, their friends certainly will not. We have to stop trying to get our kids to like us, that is not part of our job description. We are here to impart knowledge, direct their paths and love beyond measure.

Once upon a time Jenny met her Prince, fell madly in love, got married, had two beautiful children and lived happily ever after (most of the time). Now she is a retired Princess providing encouragement for what happens after the happily ever after. She loves to share about motherhood; the good, the bad and the really funny, all while keeping her faith. Jesus loving and living a blessed life in the OC. You can find more of her writings over at www.princessturnedmom.com

(*This piece was originally published at www.princessturnedmom.com*)

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