I received an e-mail from a mom, telling me that her 5-year-old daughter hadn’t had swim lessons in a long time, was scared of the water and would just sit on the first step of the pool. Swimming with Evangeline was reminiscent of trying to teach my niece to swim. Cute kid. Big smile. She seemed eager to learn to swim as she answered everything I said with an enthusiastic “YES!”
“Are you ready to swim?”
“Let’s go sing a song.”
“Pick out a toy to play with.”
“Let’s blow bubbles.”
“Okay, now let’s get our noses wet.”
“NO! NO! NO!”
Ah ha! So she had boundaries and opinions. Strong opinions. Everything was either “YES!” or “NO! NO! NO!” I had to find a way to get her to at least try the skills she feared. And so the game began… I decided that I could no longer ask Evangeline Yes/No questions. Instead, I had to simply state what we WERE GOING TO DO, rather than ask IF she wanted to do it. And it had to sound SUPER FUN. “We’re gonna blow bubbles! Yay! Bubbles are so fun! The bubbles tickle my nose! How silly!” We played with bright pink squishy toys, pretended like the pool was made out of ice cream while we scooped it all up, and we put fishy shoes on our feet.
Every time we did something Evangeline wasn’t a big fan of she’d say, “No! That’s enough.” (Reminded me of my niece- she’d say, “No, thank you,” when I asked her to try something she wasn’t comfortable with.) The smile is so wide and the eyes so sweet, that she almost had me agreeing with her.
I continued to make it as exciting as possible, which worked. Sort of. I would tell Evangeline what to do, demonstrate the skill, then have her try. I smiled and laughed the entire time I practiced the skill. She would see how much fun I was having, then try it herself. But as soon as she was out of her comfort zone, she would say, “No! That’s enough.”
It all comes down to the right balance between fun teacher and authoritative teacher, which is necessary, but not always easy. I talked about the art of distraction with Hunter (#5), which really helps keep the student focused on the positive. Yet, while I want to make the lesson fun and engaging, I also don’t want Evangeline to try a skill, completely freak out and have a negative relationship with the water. So, the game continued and as soon I saw a flat out refusal beginning to brew, I quickly transitioned into a song or grabbed the squirty fish and squirt water directly into my eyes. She found that funny. Whatever works.
By the end of the lesson, Evangeline was much more relaxed and I didn’t hear, “NO!” anymore. She trusted me. I decided to test just how much. I was my own photographer for this lesson (as you can probably tell) and I hadn’t got a shot of her with her face in the water. She would do it so quickly that I couldn’t get it. So, I told her I needed one good photo and we would be finished. This was the best five minutes of the lesson! Evangeline kept asking, “Did you get it?” Even if I did, I would say, “No, you have to put your face in longer.” She went from putting her face in for less than a second to about five seconds as she waited for me to get the perfect photo: