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Conquering Fears in the Pool

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Conquering Fears in the Pool

My older son Jasper has always loved the water and swimming. While he would hesitate and show some apprehension when trying activities like soccer or tumbling, he would dive feet-first into the pool without a trace of fear. We signed him up for swim classes when he was about 18 months old. He's been taking classes ever since and is starting to swim on his own. The first time that he put his head in the water, pushed off the wall and swam to his teacher, my heart swelled.

Jasper at 2.5 years old

So, when he started protesting going to his swim class a few months ago, I wasn't sure what to do. When he started screaming and crying on the pool deck, I was at a loss. I expected this kind of reaction when we introduced him to skiing in February. But with swimming? No way.

He gave a number of reasons for why he didn't want to swim but I knew that something had spooked him and had started to erode his confidence. I knew that he didn't like using the kick board but the barbells were OK. He didn't like swimming to the deep-end but jumping off the diving platform into the deep-end was OK. He tried to coax and encourage him. We tried to bribe him. We tried everything that we could think of.



As a parent, it's hard to watch your child lose their confidence, especially when it's something that you know brings your child so much joy. As a parent, it's also hard to be that parent at the pool / birthday party / playground with the screaming, kicking, whining child. My husband and I were so ready to throw in the towel, to give up and to let Jasper win this battle. I was so frustrated. I could feel the frustration pouring out of my pores. In part, it was because I love swimming and want to share that with my children.

But, since we had already committed to lessons for the summer, we decided to switch him to private lessons with his favorite swim teacher - his first teacher who he loves and practically would do anything for. If this didn't work out, we'd give swimming a rest for a while. Since then, it's been a slow process of rebuilding his confidence as a swimmer and making it fun again. By the second lesson, he was laughing and smiling. By the third lesson, he was using the kick board and learning to do the backstroke. I started to breathe a sigh of relief. 


This experience reminded me of a few things:
  • Don't push but don't give up. For me, I felt that it was important that Jasper keep trying. In life, he's going to encounter many situations that he doesn't like and that are hard but he needs to learn the skills to face those situations. Maybe that's the Tiger Mom in me coming out but I do feel that it's an important skill to learn. If he refused to swim and wasn't having fun, we would have stopped the lessons and taken a break from swimming.
  • Don't underestimate the power of being silly. I swear that the reason that Jasper got back in the water and was willing to continue with his swim lessons was because his teacher is hilarious. He makes jokes and makes Jasper feel like he's the funniest kid ever. 
  • It's a big deal to conquer your fears. Celebrate the small accomplishments along the way to help to build confidence. It's important to recognize the progress that our kids make. I know that it was a big deal that Jasper swam in the pool by himself without his teacher in the water with him and we celebrated that.
I am hopeful that this is a turning point for him. Our mantra through these last few swim lessons has been Brave and Calm. Yes, both Jasper and Mommy have to be brave and calm - the latter more so for Mommy.

How do you encourage your children when they are scared or lose their confidence? How do you build resiliency in yourself and in your kids?



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38 Comments:

At July 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM , Blogger Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb said...

What an excellent post. As a child who suffered from fear of water I can identify this. Bravo to you for being an awesome mom!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 2:16 PM , Blogger The Preppy Girl in Pink said...

You guys are such good parents. Water can be such a frightening place to be. Even when they are little all they hear is the worry of drowning. It may not be from our own mouths but it is all around us and they hear it even when we don't. They may not grasp it but they know it means danger. I think you guys did the right thing and didn't push to hard just enough and by going back to an instructor that he loves, you made him feel like an important part of the decision process.
He is so stinkin' cute!!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 2:50 PM , Blogger Mel said...

These are some great lessons. My daughter has developed this fear of the swings on the playground. I keep gently asking her but never forcing her to get back on. It's so hard to watch them lose their courage. Also? Your little Jasper is adorable!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 3:43 PM , Blogger Michelle said...

This post rings so true for us right now. It seems like my daughter wants to give up as soon as she starts anything. It's tough because we want her to have the experience, but we don't want to push. Like you, we encouraged her to finish out her session and if she wanted to continue, she could. If not, she didn't have to go back. So far she's doing great. Glad to hear your son is getting back into the swing of things!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 5:15 PM , Anonymous Charlotte (@Char__Latte) said...

I loved this post. I am so glad your little man is back in the water and happy! I'm not a parent, but I can only imagine the frustration/heart ache of watching your child lose confidence when you dont know what happened to cause it.

xoxo

 
At July 11, 2012 at 5:16 PM , Blogger Jolene said...

Aww. So sweet...you are such an amazing mom wanting to help your son through this and share something that you enjoy so much too. Can you teach ME not to fear swimming too? ;-)

 
At July 11, 2012 at 6:51 PM , Blogger Elle said...

How great for both of you that you perservered with patience and gentleness ... win win for both of you. Wonderful post.

 
At July 11, 2012 at 7:12 PM , Blogger misszippy said...

You're doing a great job and I'm so glad your approach paid off! I'd be the same way--frustrated to see my child lose confidence. But then as a parent, you can't let that frustration show! It's tough but you did it!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 8:49 PM , Blogger Angela @ Happy Fit Mama said...

I'm glad your little guy is finding his love and confidence in the water again. We are just at the age of doing swim lessons right now so I hope it goes smoothly. I will be thinking back to your post if it doesn't.

BTW - Jasper is so stinkin' cute!!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 9:06 PM , Anonymous Michele @nycrunningmama said...

First, Jasper is adorable. Too cute for words.
Second, this post is amazing. I know that we are going to reach this stage at some point with AJ. I feel blessed (in a way) that so far, he is 100% fearless when it comes to trying anything new - nothing scares him. But, it's likely that something will eventually take away that confidence he has and then I won't know what to do b/c I haven't had to deal with any of this yet.
You handled it flawlessly and I'm so happy to hear that he is back in the pool having a blast =)

 
At July 11, 2012 at 9:52 PM , Blogger Kristen said...

What amazing lessons you took away from this! I'm so glad you didn't give up or let him give up. You are so patient and yet so encouraging to him. Awesome post!

 
At July 11, 2012 at 10:25 PM , Anonymous Charissa said...

I love this - if I ever I'm a Mom, I'm going to be like you. ;)

 
At July 12, 2012 at 6:42 AM , Anonymous MizFit said...

MAN this one is a hard one and you rocked it.
all I ever can think to do is to stay solid, loving but firm and ensure no matter WHAT happens outside the house that the home is a safe place to fall.

xo

 
At July 12, 2012 at 8:43 AM , OpenID Ilene, The Fierce Diva Guide to Life said...

Seriously, you handed this so beautifully. "Don't push but don't give up." I get very pushy with my kids, and it's always out of some crazy, irrational fear I have! You worked with Jasper versus against him and because I that, you allowed him to prosper. Great job!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 1:41 PM , Blogger Shell said...

Sounds like you handled this beautifully!

Don't push, but don't give up. I love that.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:25 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Heidi. It was so odd that he all of a sudden started acting so terrified about the water when he never was before. I'm glad that we stuck it out and finger crossed that we're over the hump!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:27 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Kristen. You are so right and didn't even think of that - the fact that we always talk about how dangerous it can be near or in the water. I'm sure that some of that stuck with him combined with having swallowed a bit of water, I'm sure that's part of what spooked him. When he didn't just dive right in during his first lesson with his favorite teacher, we knew that it was something more than just not liking his previous teacher. It's a reminder that feelings and confidence are never set in stone.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:28 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Mel! It IS so hard to watch them lose their courage. But I think that all we can really do is continue to encourage them to try and hopefully they will slowly rebuild their confidence.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:30 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Charlotte and me too! I kept thinking that I wish I knew the reason why he was scared and that if I did, I could fix it because that's what parents like to try to do :-) It was a huge lesson for me, as I'm sure it was for Jasper too.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:31 PM , Blogger Christine said...

It's so hard, isn't it?? Jasper has a tendency to give up when he tries new things, especially if he's not good at it, and like you, I want him to have the experience and to try his best. I'm glad to hear that you daughter is doing great now. Fingers crossed for both of us!!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:32 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks friend and I'd be happy to teach you not to fear swimming! haha. I'd probably push you in the pool...er, I mean...

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:32 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you Amanda! I'm not sure I was totally successful in not letting the frustration show but I tried my best too!!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:33 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you Elle!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:34 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Angela! I think that the key with introducing a new activity to kids is showing them that it's fun. I hope that everything goes well when you start lessons!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:34 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Charissa :-)

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:34 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Shell. It's a fine line between not pushing and not giving up for sure!!

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:36 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Michele! I'm glad he's having fun again too. That's the worse feeling as a parent - knowing and watching your kid NOT have fun. Love that AJ is fearless and it's fun to watch them at that stage. I have no doubt that you will handle any situation with grace.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:37 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Kristen! I'm glad that I had a chance to look back and think about this experience a little more. Hopefully I will remember these lessons moving forward :-)

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:38 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Love that - home is a safe place to fall. Thank you.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:40 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you Ilene! I have to admit, I tend to be pushy with my kids and during the whole episode it didn't always feel like Jasper and I were working together but glad that in the end it worked out OK.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 4:57 PM , Blogger Blond Duck said...

My sister was scared of swimming b/c of a bad swim instructor...I'm a fish and always have been.

 
At July 12, 2012 at 5:45 PM , Anonymous Greg said...

Great post, really thoughtful analysis of the issue with swimming that your son was having. My sister went through something similar- she was always the tan kid jumping in the pool, no hesitation, and never wanting to get out. At some point she got spooked and my family never pursued it. Now she is in high school and is scared of deep water in the pool and won't go in the ocean at all. it's sad because I feel that had we handled the situation similar to the way that you did, she would still have that passion. Don't push and don't give up is a good mentality for anyone, in any conflicting situation. Thanks.

Greg at Dazadi.com

 
At July 12, 2012 at 9:57 PM , Blogger Cotter Crunch said...

i bet you are helping rebuild that confidence, just by being YOU! loving, supportive, and kind.

 
At July 13, 2012 at 1:24 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Greg and thanks for sharing the story of your sister. It's so hard to know what's going to work in any situation and with any kid. There was a good chance that our approach was going to backfire and my son would never want to swim again. It's a fine balance figuring out where to draw the line between pushing/encouraging and sticking with it/giving up but ultimately it does depend on the individual. Maybe it would have worked with your sister or maybe not. Who knows, right? The best we can do is try.

 
At July 14, 2012 at 11:06 AM , Anonymous OneMommy said...

Glad to hear he's back in the water! He looks like he was having a lot of fun.

Yes, never underestimate the power of humor and jokes, especially with little boys!

Stopping by from SITS

 
At July 14, 2012 at 1:12 PM , Blogger Danielle said...

What a great post! I am excited to start my son in swimming lessons soon. He just turned 2 and loves the water in small pools and the bathtub but gets a little nervous in the bigger pools. I am hoping that if we can get him in lessons, we can help him build that confidence when there is a lot more water around. I like the idea of not pushing but not giving up either, it will be a good thing for us to remember.

 
At July 14, 2012 at 1:35 PM , Anonymous Lauren said...

Saw your link on SITS, glad I stopped by! I'm glad you found success - and love that he has such a great teacher. I think teachers can really be credited with leading to so many peoples greatness and it's amazing to see them appreciated!

 
At July 14, 2012 at 5:46 PM , Blogger Lovin Livin In 'Luma said...

My son was afraid of the water too when he first started with lessons. He had such a hard time because he loved it so much but was afraid at the same time. His coach was amazing and took it very slow with him. After a year of lessons he will be starting the swim team this week. I wanted so badly for him to take instantly to the water because I too love it that the best thing I could do was stand back and let his coach do everything. After all she was the professional and I was paying her. I am so glad that I did because I didnt push him into being more fearful. Thank you for this post.

 

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