Adventures in Swim Lessons

What comes to mind when you think of summer? The smell of chlorine and sunscreen? Sandy beaches and children laughing; popsicles and warm summer nights? When I think back to my summers as a child, I have flashes of memories of taking swim lessons every summer, and then teaching kids to swim during breaks from high school.

As dutiful parents, my husband and I enrolled our kids in swim lessons when they were still “aqua babies.” For several summers, we spent our every Saturday morning freezing in an outdoor pool with our young children, sharing sympathetic looks with the other parents, and singing and splashing to help our kids get comfortable in the water.

Despite these efforts, anytime our kids got a drop of water on their face or head, they would scream and immediately insist on drying off with a towel. Bathtime at our house sounded like a daily torture session, and I’m thankful we’ve never had police show up at our door wondering what the racket was! We tried all sorts of different ways to wash their hair and cover their eyes, using goggles and towels and distractions and bribery, but nothing helped.

Last summer, when our kids were 4 and 2, we decided to try indoor swimming lessons at a private swim facility. The warm water, small class sizes, and enthusiastic teachers were just what our kids needed! We were confident that our kids would be swimming like fish in no time!

Fast forward a year to August. After a year of carting our children to swim lessons every week, they still refuse to get their heads wet. Our son, almost 6, absolutely panics at the mention of dunking his head under water, and will scream, cry, hit, and kick to escape an adult who threatens to force him. And to be honest, after spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and hours and hours of time in swim lessons, our patience has been wearing thin.

We made a deal with the kids at the beginning of this summer, that if they put their head underwater, we would take them out to ice cream immediately after, which is a rare and highly desired treat for them. And for the first two months of summer, our children’s stubborn desire to keep their heads dry has been more powerful than their desire for ice cream with gummy bears mixed in.

And then something wonderful happened.

Our daughter, almost 4, dunked her head under water in her swim class! My husband and I were so proud (and relieved)! Unfortunately for our son, yet again, he chose not to. The following trip to Coldstone was attended by a very proud little girl happily eating the ice cream of her choice, and a very jealous boy!

In response to his protests, “It’s not fair!” and “I feel left out!” my husband calmly replied “You both had a choice. You could choose to dunk your head and eat ice cream, or choose not to dunk your head and not eat ice cream. Which one did you choose?” As our son sadly mumbled “not to eat ice cream,” I felt a mixture of guilt, pride, and an urge to laugh. Even though I preach the importance of being consistent and following through with kids daily, and I know it is the best thing for him, I still feel guilty sometimes when I do it! I think everyone does.

But I also felt proud, proud of my husband’s response, and proud of the man that I know our son will grow up to be. He is learning now that he has a choice in life, and that every choice has consequences. Sometimes we make the wrong choice, and we don’t like the consequences. That’s life. I’m so thankful that he’s learning this invaluable lesson now, when the worst thing that happens is he eats less sugar, and not when he’s older and the stakes are much higher.

And also, I wanted to laugh. This picture cracks me up!

What would you have done differently in our shoes? Any suggestions for helping our son overcome his fear of getting his ears wet?