Pretending to be Brave
As soon as March rolls around, we’re ready for spring. Yes, the weather is pretty mild here in the Denver area. (Those residents who didn’t do hard time in the brutal winters of the Midwest think it’s actually cold here, but we know differently.) Even with all the sunshine we get here in Colorado, as soon as spring is on its way, we get antsy. One way to deal with this is to start up our swimming lessons again.
I’ve been taking Claire swimming since she was 6-months old. As a child, I was terrified of the water. My mom forced me to take swim lessons, and it was one of the best things she could have done. I remember being so afraid of the water, but I can look back at it from a place of confidence. My heart goes out to those little kids who scream on the side of the pool or cling to their swim teacher’s neck with the monkey-strength of ten men.
I used to be there.
I know what it’s like.
Oh, my poor swim teachers…
I thought we were pretty lucky with Claire. Since taking her since she was 6-months old, she has no problems getting her face wet. She’ll jump in to me. She’d float on her tummy and back with my help, and she was making great strides in doing it unassisted. She’s not there yet, but it’s just a matter of time.
Last year’s swim lessons went really well. The day she got her certificate passing her on to the next class was a big day for her.
I knew we’d have to take a break in the swimming lessons, because things get so busy around here. We went on a 12-day Road Trip. We had entirely too much fun this summer. We started school and got into a Ballet Class routine. I couldn’t believe how quickly time flew, but I realized that it’s been about a year since we did swim lessons.
I signed her up, and we were back into the swing of things.
This year started out great. The first couple classes went well…and then something happened.
All of a sudden my little fish was full of fear. She didn’t want to jump in. She couldn’t relax to do the back float. She’d cling to the teacher or physically resist jumping into the pool. This was not like her at all!
After the class was over, I tried to talk to her about it. “I’ll fall to the bottom and drown!” she cried. “I’ll fall under the water and sink to the bottom!” I tried and tried to figure out where she’d heard this, but to no avail.
On one hand, I don’t want her to have no fear of the water. I don’t want her jumping in if someone isn’t watching. But, if someone is, I want her to be confident.
Getting ready for the next class was brutal. She fought me. She cried. I tried my best to be firm yet address her fears. It was not a good day. We got there with enough time to practice before hand, and I got her calm. But, as soon as the class started, the fear took over. My little girl who used to volunteer to jump in first was scared to jump in at all. The moment she burst into tears on the side, my heart broke into a million pieces. This was just not like her, and it conjured up my own fears and how hard it was to get over them.
Another little boy in Claire’s class had the same reaction. I started talking to his parents, and that’s when we discovered that he had been telling them similar stories about falling under the water and drowning. Something had happened in that last class, and both Claire and this other little boy had heard it…and the damage was done.
This particular class was a disaster. Claire cried and my heart ached. She eventually did all the teacher asked her to, but it took a lot of coaxing, a lot of tears, and physically pulling her into the pool. I wanted to take away her fear, the memories of my own fear stinging my eyes. I vacillated between wanting to hold her close and rock away her fears or throw her in the pool to get her to snap out of it.
Afterward, I talked to her teacher. I told her what Claire had said, and she said she knew that the other little boy had the same fears. She agreed that something had happened to set them off, but she was at a loss as to what that was. She said she’d do what she could to work through this. I felt better bringing it to her attention, and knew that the next class would be what it would be. It would either go well or it wouldn’t.
And here’s the thing: After class, both Claire and her little friend had no qualms playing in the pool. The fear wasn’t the water, it was the class.
Sunday night, we prepared for Monday’s class. We talked about how it’s okay to be afraid. We talked about how no one (me or the teacher) would let anything bad happen to her. We talked about how it’s okay to not like swimming lessons…but you have to do it. Then I let her in on a little secret: The best way to not be afraid was to pretend not to be afraid. When you pretend to be brave, you really are being brave, and no one knows that you’re faking it.
Monday morning, I got her to admit that she did like playing at the pool. So, like any good parent, I used that to my advantage. IF she refused to do what the swimming teacher told her to do, and IF she caused a scene in swimming lessons, we were done for the day when the lessons were over and wouldn’t play in the pool afterward.
This time? My little fish was back. She volunteered to jump in first. She was a little hesitant at times, but she didn’t cry and she did it anyway.
She pretended to be brave, and I couldn’t even tell the difference.
How do you help your child face a fear?