Thursday, May 08, 2008

Second Guessing

There are times that it's tough to know which is the right parenting decision. I literally ask myself which choice will have the least likelihood of f'ing up my kids. I had another one of these dilemmas recently: whether or not to let S quit swimming lessons.

She started out swim lessons enthusiastically, running up to the pool with barely contained excitement. She loved her bathing suit, her pretty pink goggles, and her swim teacher. In fact, after the first lesson she told me in the car on the way home that she wanted to be a swim teacher when she grew up. Great, right? She loved every part of it except for the part when she had to stick her face in the water. Seems like an integral part of swimming, doesn't it?

Before the second week, I tried bribing her by telling her that if she put her face in the water when Coach Diana asked, she could have a marshmallow peep -- I even brought it to the pool with me in a little plastic baggie. When the designated time came, I held it up and dangled it to her as a reminder of the reward that awaited her. Yeah, didn't quite have the effect I was looking for. Instead of immediately putting her smiling face in the water, S proceeded to start crying. Turns out that my little bribe just made her anxious -- she really wanted that peep, but really didn't want to put her face in the water. Who knew it would backfire? I've used bribery successfully in the past -- she would not be potty-trained now without the use of carefully doled out jelly beans!

After that incident, Coach Diana suggested that I work with S at home to get her used to the idea of submerging her face. S and I were to get into the tub together in our bathing suits and her goggles, and practice there. Dutifully we did just that, working on our "torpedo arms" (arms straight out ahead of us, as if ready to dive) and our "chipmunk cheeks" (holding our breaths). It went better than expected. After just a little coaxing, she happily put her face in the tub, and even blew bubbles. As we walked into the next lesson, I was silently patting myself on the back completely confident in my success. Turns out that the pool is a lot bigger than my tub. S really, really tried, but after one attempt at the torpedo arms and chipmunk cheeks, she dissolved into tears and cries of "I want my mamma."

With each week she became more and more anxious about putting her face in the water. It was clearly making her upset. So, I had a dilemma. One one hand, I feel that swimming is a skill that kids need to have. I don't consider it a "nice to do" activity like soccer or ballet. S has to learn how to swim. I don't care if she never joins a swim team or learns to butterfly. But, she must learn to be safe in a pool. Plus, I don't really want to encourage her to quit every time something gets difficult. One of the lessons I am really trying to impart is the importance of trying and perseverance. Would letting her quit be counter-productive to that goal? One the other hand, I didn't want her to get so anxious that she would develop a real fear of swimming. I didn't want to push her so hard that she would associate so much anxiety with the activity that I would never get her to swim.

After a lot of internal debate and some discussions with other moms, I decided to back off for now. I explained to her that we could give swimming a rest for a while, and she could try again when she is four (which is just a couple of months away). I think it's the right choice. And she seems fine with the idea of doing it when she's four. I guess we'll try again then...

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