Summer started Memorial weekend and my 7-year-old Ella was praising herself as a "swimmer." She was...sorta, but not in over three and a half feet of water. Last year I had designated Tuesday's to give her private lessons, just us, in my best friend's pool.
We learned to go all the way around the pool hand over hand, to swim under water and on top of the water, and to jump into the deep and get to the side as fast and in any way she could. This year I was intending to sign her up for swimming lessons at the YMCA where my 17-year-old son was a lifeguard. While in the pool at my brother's Memorial weekend I told her about lessons and she wanted to know why, and said she could swim just fine. I said OK, "Do it."
"Not in the deep end!" she whined.
"Why not? It is the same as swimming on top of the water. It is still swimming whether it's 3 feet or 30 feet," I reasoned.
She wasn't buying it. But did get a little more brave in that she would dog paddle to the deep end ladder. Seriously, about six feet.
The next opportunity in a pool was at my mom's June 8th. We had just (I mean that day) had a rain storm and the water was really cold. Of course the water was perfect to Ella. I asked her to swim lengthwise across the pool, and if she didn't she would be going to swim lessons this summer. This produced the same conversation two paragraphs up.
Finally, I asked her if she would "pretend" race me to the deep end. We agreed to actually help each other should the other person need it. I encouraged her to relax, keep going and take her time.
We made it! Then all my mom's 70 year old friends gathered around the pool-initially because it was too cold to swim, and then they became our cheering section. Ella really enjoyed her moment of glory. She swam lengthwise and back with me again and again - about ten times that day!
What a parenting "high" to help Ella overcome her fear of the deep end, and to be there when she swam the length of the pool all by herself. But that is parenting isn't it? We encourage our children to face their fears. Give them the skills to overcome them. And then we get right in the cold water with them and stay by them just in case. Sometimes it is really hard as they may hold on to us, but eventually, and with enough encouragement, they learn to swim by themselves.
Mary Lynn Heath lives in Central Oklahoma with her husband and three children ages, 19, 17 and 7
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