I had good intentions of my children learning to swim at a young age. Sienna had her first swim lessons at 6 months and then again around 18 months. We didn’t make it back to the pool regularly until Mateo was about a year old. Sienna was then 4 years old and had developed a bit more reservation about the water.
At those lessons, parents weren’t in the water with their kids. Sienna kept close to me at the steps of the pool. The instructor was a young woman who clearly knew nothing about child psychology. She barely greeted Sienna before grabbing her and bringing her into the water. Sienna screamed and hysterically lunged for me.
We spent the rest of that lesson and the three following Saturdays sitting on the steps. I gently coaxed Sienna to go one step deeper into the pool each lesson. She was proud of her accomplishment and we talked about overcoming her fear.
I could have strangled that swim teacher.
In the two years since this experience, Sienna and I have talked a lot about swim lessons. She’s not afraid of the water. She’ll play in pools, as long as she can touch the bottom. She’s never had an issue with water in her face (unlike Teo who still doesn’t like having his hair washed in the bathtub). Her fear is specifically of swimming lessons.
So, I started asking her if she’d prefer I teach her to swim. This idea became more attractive over the past few months. But, whenever we’d go to our local YMCA pool to swim, she’d get teary and ask if she could just play this time. After several of these struggles, I laid down the law:
“Sienna, if I’m going to teach you, you have to do what I ask you. We’ll give it one year. If you’re not water-safe and swimming a year from now, we’re doing formal lessons.”
Big sigh. “Okay,” she replied.
Our first lesson was last Thursday afternoon. As we got in the water, I said a little prayer that it would be a positive experience and noted not to push or create a battle of wills over what she’d be willing to do. We worked on putting her face in the water, holding her breath and coming up out of the water to take a breath. She did it easily and was really excited. Knowing that this was a big hurdle for many kids while learning to swim, I praised her a bunch for doing it so well. We also did kicking while I held her. The atmosphere was extremely positive and she was so proud. “I’m doing it, Mommy!” she kept exclaiming while I beamed at her.
While we were in the locker room after the lesson, she said to me: “Mom, you’re just….(pause) this was awesome.” I agreed, “It was awesome, love girl.”
Friday afternoon, we were on our way home from school and I mentioned we’d do our next lesson the following day. Sienna asked, “Can we go today?” We checked the open swim schedule for the evening and learned that we could go at 7:00 p.m. Wanting to capitalize on her enthusiasm and knowing we had a full Saturday, I agreed we could go to the pool after dinner.
This time we brought her goggles and we had a lot of fun going underwater and waving to one another. She held on to me and kicked a few laps around the pool. Then I explained the next thing I wanted her to try: putting her face in the water and kicking then I’d give her a little push and let go so she could kick a few feet to the wall.
No way! She started tearing up and saying she was too afraid to try that. I coaxed, explaining that she could do it and I’d be right there. No way!
The pool has a long disabled access ramp that gradually deepens. Sienna likes to play in the 1 1/2 to 2 feet deep portion. So, she continued to work on her breathing and going underwater to wave at me. Then, she tried going underwater and letting her legs float up so she wasn’t touching at all. Sienna kicked a bit and even starting taking a few breasts-style type strokes with her arms while underwater.
“Sienna, you’re doing just what I was asking you to do!” I told her. “You’re not touching the bottom and swimming a short distance. In fact, it’s more advanced than what I asked, because you’re adding in the arms.”
For the next ten to fifteen minutes I watched her explore her capabilities and push herself to do more. She’d stay underwater longer or take more strokes. She then said to me, “Thank you, Mom for teaching me. I think it works well for me to try to do what you’re doing.” I hadn’t even realized, of course, she’s watching me swim around while she was playing. That’s where she got the idea to do the breaststroke arm motion.
I’m really encouraged at how well she’s taking to swim lessons with me. It’s really rewarding and bonding to do this together. I’ll let you know how she progresses!