Cheers and Tears for Swimming Lessons

Yesterday was the first day of swimming lessons for Bean and Gracie. We do swimming lessons every summer, and last year even did several rounds of them throughout the summer because Bean liked them so much. When it was time to get back in the pool this year, Bean was good and ready. He loves swimming, and when we finally got to the YMCA yesterday for lessons, he could not contain himself!


That’s his swim instructor there to the right, and Bean pretty much followed him around all afternoon and talked the poor guy’s ear off.

Bean told him how much he loved swimming, how often he swims (practically every day at our house), what he likes to play in the pool, how far out he can jump in the water… I think Bean talked for 15 minutes without taking a breath.

When the lesson actually began, Bean jumped right into the deep end of the pool and never looked back. He is in intermediate swim lessons this summer, and will learn how to do a few different kinds of swim strokes. He started learning how to back stroke yesterday!

I know it’s too early to mark our kids as being any kind of specific athlete, and it is a particular pet peeve of mine when parents rush to push their kids into one specific sport. BUT. I do find myself wondering if maybe swim team is in Bean’s future. He was very interested in the swim team practicing in the lanes next to him, and I know they start them on the Y swim leagues as early as kindergarten. I don’t think we’re ready to sign up yet, but it is definitely something I’m keeping on the radar for him. He’s like his momma, and he loves being in the water.

Bean and Gracie’s lessons were about 20 minutes apart, so after Bean’s lesson, the kids went over to the wading end of the pool and played with the other kids. They had friends there from church and daycare, so they jumped right in.

Even Gracie played, which I took as a good sign. We have been worried about her with swimming lessons. Gracie loves the water, but she is not very good doing what she doesn’t want to do on command.  (In other words, she pitches hellacious fits if you make her do something that she doesn’t initiate on her own.)  But I was hoping since we have already been in the pool so much in the past month and since her swim teacher was actually one of our neighbors that she might be more inclined to participate this year.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Gracie sat down on the side of the pool with the other kids in her swimming group (one of which was a little girl in her class at school, so you would think that would have helped her comfort level a little bit). All the kids were totally fine. Even Gracie sat there cool as a cucumber. Until the teacher spoke to her. The minute Miss Julie spoke to her, Gracie exploded into a hysterical mess.

This is the part of raising Gracie that is hardest for me to handle because I get so frustrated with her. I know she is fine. She was fine two seconds ago and nothing has changed in her environment. But that sudden turn to the Dark Side comes over her, and she becomes inconsolable. If there was a legitimate fear, that would be one thing. But I know she isn’t afraid of the Y because we have had lessons there before. I know she isn’t scared of the water because she swims in our pool all the time. I just know her, and I know that it is simply a game of wills. She doesn’t want to go to swimming lessons, so she FREAKS OUT until she doesn’t have to go.

Chris and I stay pretty tough with her, though. I sat down beside her on the side of the pool, but I wouldn’t let her crawl up into my lap. She had to sit there with the rest of the kids. I just moved a little closer for support. She also didn’t have to participate, but she had to at least sit on the side of the pool and watch the other kids. Which was hard for her considering she was screaming so loudly it was hard to hear the other kids or the teacher.

If this was something extra-curricular, like soccer or ballet or even swim team, I wouldn’t push her. But we have a pool at our house and we are surrounded by water in our part of Florida. Swimming is a non-negotiable for safety reasons. You have to be able to swim without a flotation device.

After lessons yesterday, Chris and I came up with a new rule for our house. If you can’t sit through swimming lessons without crying, then you can’t swim in the pool at home.  When we got home, Bean wanted to go practice his backstroke in the pool, so we let him. But Gracie had to sit on the deck instead. We go back for swimming lessons again on Thursday. If she can sit through them without screaming – she doesn’t even have to participate yet! – then she can go in our pool until the next swimming lesson. But if she screams through her next lesson, her pool restriction continues.

I hate being tough on Gracie, especially because her default reaction is to cry. And what parent wants to keep pushing when their child starts to cry??? But that’s the trick about raising a spirited child. We have to look past the tears and emotions to what this is really all about, and for Gracie it is 100% about having to do something she doesn’t want to do when she is asked to do it. She’s capable. She’s safe. She understands. So, into the pool she must go.

Tears or no tears.


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18 Thoughts to “Cheers and Tears for Swimming Lessons”

  1. Bless y’all’s hearts. I know that can’t be easy but y’all know her best. You go mama.

  2. Beanie, Gracie and Tillman's Nana

    You and Chris know Miss Gracie inside and out and while some may think this is tough love, I personally had to chuckle. She’s the sweetest most stubborn little girl I have ever seen! They broke the mold with Gracie Girl. You forgot to share the funniest part of this story……when she got in the car she said what she always says, “Can I have a snack now?”

  3. Andie

    Oh gosh I wonder if my daughter is spirited as well! She’s only 18 months but is very headstrong and likes to do things on her own. I know it’s the age that ties in as well but hot damn…I need a drink every night, lol I kid. I’m going to be writing down how you and Chris deal with Gracie for future reference by the way!

  4. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, Miss Gracie.

  5. Trish D

    I had one of those kids! You never knew when he was going to meltdown. He finally outgrew it about the time he started school. Gotta love em.

  6. Keri

    It’s tough love, but it’s necessary. You didn’t throw her into the pool. You say next to her(comfort) and gave her clear expectations.

    I have 4 boys; 16, 15, 13, and 11 and I can tell you tough love is absolutely necessary. Water is always going to be around her, knowing how to swim is a necessity.

  7. Erin B

    Every time you write about Gracie’s spiritedness(is that a real word), I just relate so well.

    My son is a month older than her and has the exact same thing. He doesn’t like to be commanded or told what to do. We had the same battle with swimming. Our rule at first was he had to sit on the side, listen and not cry. Then after we got to that stage he had to participate in one activity with the class. It took the whole session to get him to participate with the class. We’re doing another session in a week!

    He starts preschool next year and I’m due with my second child the week after it starts. I’m a little terrified of how this will play out.

    Good luck!

  8. Jess

    Good on you!
    We’re in NZ and around water all the time. We also have a horrific drowning rate so in my book swimming lessons are non negotiable. She will thank you later, I can swim, but my husband isn’t keen on water and in a way I feel sorry for him. I also worry about him when he’s out on a boat (even with a life jacket!)

  9. Little Gracie looks so much like you! She will soon learn that it’s not worth missing out on the fun at home and participate in her lessons.

  10. Verity

    I need to save all your Gracie posts in a special folder somewhere because I have a nearly 2 year old daughter who sounds like she came from the same mould on the other side of the Atlantic. Also with an older sweet natured brother! I need to order that book and read it ASAP. Sounds like an excellent parental response to swimming to me and I’m filing it away for my own future use 🙂

  11. Michelle

    I applaud you for your commitment to the swim lessons- I agree, that pool or no pool at home, it should be a must for all children to be proficient in swimming! I grew up in SoCal. We didn’t have a pool, but almost all of my friends did and my best friend and I used to walk down to the public pool during the Summer and swim for hours. Swim lessons were very important!

    We’re dealing with a battle of wills with our 16 month old son currently. He was recently diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and we have had him on a pretty intensive regiment of therapies since last Fall. Recently, he has decided that he no longer wants to participate in his physical therapy sessions and as soon as he sees the instructor, he’ll stick out his bottom lip in a pout and start crying. We have managed to find a good work around to this problem in the form of Sharky and Bones music videos (anyone who watches Jake and the Neverland Pirates are familiar with these guys), which is his favorite thing. They provide a great distraction and he forgets that he’s unhappy and starts smiling and babbling happily again.

    I was a very strong-willed child and I have my suspicions that my son is the same. But for his own good, he has to continue with his therapies if he’s going to have any chance whatsoever of being ambulatory or self sufficient. And I don’t want him to learn to use his diagnosis as a crutch in life. It’s my hope that he understands this as he gets older.

  12. Nancy

    Hi Katie-
    31 year old “spirited” child myself here. Although, in my day, we were just called stubborn! To this day, I still have difficulty accepting that I need to do something on someone else’s clock, but with maturity I learned to cope if I want to survive in this world. What I can say to you is that even when the activity is something that I want to do & love, I still feel resistance when it isn’t quite on my timetable. I used to love ballet as early as Gracie’s age and my parents couldn’t quite figure out why I would love to dance around EVERYWHERE except attend class. When they correlated it back to “being told when and where to do it” they got much firmer with me much along the lines of what you are doing with Gracie. They knew I was safe, wasn’t being harmed by the teachers or students, I was simply being stubborn. Another element that my mother added in was talking a lot about schedules. She would begin a few days out by talking up the class and how exciting it was and how all of my friends were there, etc. Eventually what happened was that it would become my idea and I would initiate wanting to go, so the issue of having to attend on “someone else’s schedule” was minimized in my mind. Not sure if you have tried something like this, just thought I would put it out there.

  13. I’m so jealous of your parenting! You always seem like you know just the right thing to do in the right situation with you kids. It sounds like you handled the Gracie situation perfectly. I think I will have a spirited child when he gets older, and I hope I will handle his situations as well as you seem to handle the ones that arise with your little girl {patience is not my strong suit}.


  14. jenny-bird

    I’ve read your blog for a long time, and I know how ya’ll struggled to look after your spirited child. After all this time, it’s good to hear about your confidence in your methods. Thanks for sharing with us!

  15. Melissa

    I’m haven’t been blessed with children yet, but I hope that when I am I’m half as capable as you! I love that you understand that treating both your kids fairly does not translate into treating them exactly the same. They have different personalities and require different methods, and you and Chris have done a remarkable job finding out what works for you guys!

    My husband was a spirited child, so I think the odds are I’ll end up with one someday, too, and your advice and experiences are going to be so helpful!

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your world with us.

  16. Mae

    Oh gosh, I really really feel for you. I have one of those children too. Remembering his toddler years makes me shudder, but we stayed firm and at 6 he’s *just about* manageable. Still tries it on, but has come to realise which battles he can’t win. Hang in there, Mama. You’re doing great.

  17. Fremont M

    Things have come a long way since I was a child. I still remember my mom telling me, “You better stop crying right now or I’ll give you something to cry about”.

  18. […] swimming lesson of the year for the kids. You can read about Gracie’s ear-piercing lesson here. I can’t speak anymore about that or I’ll have to pour myself a […]

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