Hunter walked into the Wave House Athletic Club with a little apprehension and a lot of personality. Hunter is 4 and he is in charge (whether you like it or not, but you do). I asked him if he liked to swim and he said, “Yes, but I don’t put my face in the water.” Sounds familiar. Hunter’s got spunk, which I was hoping would work to my advantage in the water. The first thing we did when we got in was pour water over our hands, arms, shoulders, then head. Hunter didn’t mind being in the water, as long as he was on the steps. He definitely wasn’t all that fired up to let the water drip down on his face. His shoulders scrunched up, his grip on me grew tighter, then he tried to push the cup of water away.
Hunter is very clever, so he would say, “Okay, your turn.” I’d let him pour water over my head and show him that it was okay and all I had to do was blink the water away. I’d say, “Okay, Hunter’s turn.” Hunter’s response was, “No, your turn again.” And again. And again.
This was my cue to keep him moving and make sure everything was SUPER AWESOME and CRAZY and EXCITING. (“See, Hunter, we’re just playing. Look how much fun we’re having!”) Since Hunter was very energetic, I had to keep him moving and keep up with his pace. So, we sang songs, played with toys, splashed Cameron (my amazing 12-year-old photographer/ assistant nephew) and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Once we slowed down, he would remember that we were doing something that was out of his comfort zone and he would say, “No, no, no, we don’t need to do that.” My response to this was to smile, give him a little lift into the air and reiterate how much fun we were having. Woo hoo! Cameron thought it was pretty funny watching a 4-year-old manipulate his auntie. They both thought it was hilarious when he splashed me as well 🙂
It was a high-energy hour and mom was very pleased that Hunter smiled the entire time. Cameron loved him, so by the end, the two of them spent some time playing and acting silly together. Cameron did an excellent job keeping Hunter’s mind off the fact that it was in fact a swimming lesson, and made blowing bubbles and putting his face in part of the game. In the end, Hunter could put his face in the water all by himself. Watch the VIDEO…DSCF2665
Some tips on how to handle an apprehensive swimmer…
- He will tighten his grip on you. Hold him a little bit tighter than he is holding you. This will assure him that he is safe.
- Tell the truth. If you say that you aren’t going to let go…then DON’T. I say, “I’m going to hold you the whole time.” And I do- if I say that. It builds trust.
- Don’t spend the whole time negotiating. Kids are smart and they will trick you- happens to me all the time! Calmly and happily tell him (don’t ask him) what he is going to do next.
- Give him a choice. If I say, “We are going to jump,” and he says, “NO,” I say, “Okay, you have a choice. We can do one jump or two jumps. It’s up to you.” When he says, “No jumps,” I say, “That’s not one of the choices. One jump or two?” If he says, “One,” then he owns that decision and you still got him to do what you want him to do. Smart huh?
- Make the experience in the water FUN! Play games, sing songs and bring toys. Tell him that it’s fun and make it fun. Because it should be.
- Stay positive. If he accidentally gets his face wet and comes up crying, don’t get a towel, wipe his eyes and ask if he’s okay. Clap and say, “Good job! You’re okay.” Give him a High 5. If you shake it off and don’t make a big deal about it, then neither will he. Move on to the next activity.
- Smile and laugh. Always. In or out of the water. Because it makes life much easier.