I will never forget my son’s first session of swim lessons. We’d completed Parent-Tot already, and he did great. He loved the singing, he loved cuddling next to me, he loved being lifted high in the air and splashing back into the water. Parent-Tot was a huge success, so I expected he would do fine in his first class with the instructor.
I was wrong.
I can still picture him sitting on the pool steps, refusing to get in the water. He cried and cried. At the time I sat in the observation chairs horrified, trying to decide whether I should swoop in and rescue him or let him continue on with something I knew was important. A friend had an older child swimming at the time, and told me to wait it out. He will be fine, she said, he will adapt and the instructors are pros at getting kids slowly acclimated to lessons. She reassured me that tears were normal and that going over to hug him or talk to him would only make it worse. Better to rip off the bandaid and let the instructor do her job without a parent interfering.
She was right.
That session was rough, no question about it. I’d love to say he got over it quickly, that it was just a few minutes of one session. It wasn’t. The tears continued the next week, and the next. But it slowly improved. He cried at the time we separated, but he could usually be comforted quicker and quicker each week. A little sprinkle of water on the head would make him laugh. Kicking his legs was fun. Blowing bubbles wasn’t so bad. Step by step, his teacher found a way to connect with him, to make the lesson fun. And step by step, he started to swim.
So I stuck it out, and so did he, and now he is obsessed with the water. He can swim strokes I never learned as a kid, do dives that make me wince in fear, and he can do it all with such grace and ease. When we race across the pool, he wins. When he watches me swim a lap, he can give me actual pointers on things I can do to improve. He is only 9, and he can crush me in the water…and it makes me SO PROUD.
We can do hard things, and so can our kids. The reason we continued with swim lessons after those VERY tough first weeks was not because I hoped or imagined he would become an Olympic swimmer or anything. It’s a safety thing. We want to be able to go to the pool each summer and I want him to know how to swim. I want him to know the power of water and be careful. I want him to be able to get himself to safety if he needs to.
I’m not saying to force activities your kids hate when they genuinely hate them. Sometimes tears mean the timing is wrong, or the teacher isn’t a good fit, or something just isn’t quite right. You know your child best. Sometimes that means waiting a few months before trying again, and sometimes it means never trying again at all. In our case, I knew letting him continue was in his best interest. Swimming is an important life skill, and drowning is a real danger for children. He was safe, he was in good hands, and I trusted that, in time, he would adapt. With a little patience, lots of support from his awesome instructor, and extra hugs and cuddles after class, he truly did great.
If your child is struggling with swim lessons, or taking that first step towards something new and different, don’t fret. You are not alone…and you can do hard things!