Preschoolers and Challenges: Weighing the Potential for Frustration Against the Possibility of Success

August 13th, 2011 by Dionna | 12 Comments
Posted in Consistent and Loving Care, Eclectic Learning, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity

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Kieran practices a sit dive

Kieran took swimming lessons for the first time this summer at his own request. It all started when we were at my sister’s neighborhood pool this past May. Kieran was sitting on the stairs in the pool, I was putting sunblock on my nephew. I glanced up and saw Kieran was not on the stairs, only his hat was floating on the top of the water. As I ran to jump into the pool to get him, I noticed that he kicked and bobbed almost all the way out of the water – almost enough to take a breath. After the ensuing tears and fear subsided, I told him that it was awesome that he kicked his leg to float to the top. Someday, I said, you’ll be able to swim and you won’t have to worry about not being able to get a breath. His reply – “I want to learn to swim right now.”

Kieran’s First “Real” Class Experience

So we enrolled in swimming lessons at Adventure Oasis.1 He started at the second level, the first level being a mom/tot intro to water class. He loves the water, so I felt comfortable putting him in a class where he would be familiarized with kicking, blowing bubbles, completely submerging, and other basic skills. After the first two week session ended, his teachers strongly recommended that he move up to the next level.

The program’s next level is designed for children at least three years of age,2 and the focus is on back and front floats, flutter kicks on front and back, front and back crawls, and more. I was reluctant to move him up, and I spent hours going back and forth with friends and family about whether to put Kieran in the class.

My main concern was that Kieran would be so frustrated that a previously fun experience would turn sour for him. Would the continual challenge of learning new skills prove too much? My secondary concern was simply the fact that swimming lessons had been Kieran’s first intro into an activity without me, and that was a challenge for Kieran when we first started. He was anxious that I was not in the water with him.

2011-08-03 04

Look! He's swimming!

There were several factors that ultimately helped me consent to moving Kieran to the next level:

First, we got to hand pick his teacher. Kieran had really connected with one of his two beginning teachers, Caleb. From the first day of his lessons when Kieran had not wanted me to leave his side for the entire class, to the end of the session when he was happy to attend and actively participating in each activity, it was Caleb who had invested the most time and energy into making sure Kieran felt confident and comfortable. I spoke with Caleb and the pool managers, and they agreed that Caleb could teach the next session with Kieran.

Second, the class would be small – only Kieran and one other child had signed up, so I knew Kieran would get a lot of one-on-one attention.

Third, everyone agreed that if Kieran felt too frustrated, he could move back down to the previous class.

Fourth and most importantly, Kieran made up his mind that he was ready to move up. If he had not felt confident about learning new skills, I would never have pushed him into the next level.

And Then He Turned Into A Fish

I spent the next two weeks in utter amazement of everything Kieran learned in such a short time. A few days before the second session ended, I saw him do an honest-to-goodness front crawl – great form and everything. He is doing real back floats, something he refused to do for the first week. Honestly, I’m stunned at how quickly he’s picking up all of these new skills.

On the other hand, it breaks my heart a little bit to see him frustrated. The drawback to so much one-on-one attention is that, well, he has so much one-on-one attention. Yes, he’s learning more than he would if there were six kids in the class, but he has less down time in between practicing his moves. And for a preschooler, not mastering something quickly is easily frustrating.

When he is working on something and doesn’t get it right, his little face just droops and my heart beats wildly, berating me for not immediately going to give him a soothing touch or a comforting word. And because Caleb is probably not as familiar with teaching preschoolers, it’s taken him some time to catch on to the fact that Kieran needs some down time, he needs more “playful teaching” than directed instruction. It doesn’t help either that Caleb’s second student was an eleven year old. It must be difficult to mesh teaching styles for two kids who are on drastically different developmental levels.

How Do Parents Balance Potential Frustrations and Successes?

Would I have moved him up if I knew then what I know now? Yes, I would. Kieran has struggled, but he’s also been exposed to so many enriching experiences – a positive male role model, successes after persistence and struggles, a class environment without a parent, and of course he has many new water skills.3

2011-08-03 05

Taking the plunge off the diving board

But that initial step – encouraging him do something that he could “fail” at – that was hard.

I would love to hear from other parents about their own experiences and concerns with their children trying new things. Does it ever get easier?

  1. Adventure Oasis is a city owned public pool in Independence, MO. Like them on Facebook!
  2. Kieran was 3.5 years old at the time of class.
  3. Of course I wouldn’t leave Kieran unsupervised in water – even if he can float and kick, he is not old enough to swim solo.

12 Responses to:
"Preschoolers and Challenges: Weighing the Potential for Frustration Against the Possibility of Success"

  1. Go you! I took a Diaper Dolphins course with Sasha as she was turning 6 months! We *still* do some of the songs and games in the tub! I’d love to get her into another class now, but its just NOT in the budget. (Actually, her grandfather paid for the course she took.)

    Unfortunately, we haven’t been in a pool once this entire Summer. :-(

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Maybe when you all are in town we could go out to our local indoor pool – $3 admission, Sasha would be free :)

  2. Even though my son is only 20 months, I already have a lot of the same concerns as you do. Part of it is because of his personality: he’s very determined and easily frustrated when he can’t do something himself(I have to admit, he must get some of that from me!). At the same time, he is highly selective about people he likes. Forging connections with others is very important to him. So, I’m learning to gauge each situation individually. What’s his mood? My mood? Is he comfortable with the other people involved? Has he warmed up to the people, environment or activity? It sounds like this is exactly what you did with Kieran’s swimming lessons, and is seems to have paid off. I’m also trying to allow Munchkin to experience a bit of frustration, while giving him skills to work through it (take a break, breathe for a moment, slow down, you can do it, etc.). It’s a work in progress and I have no idea if it will get an easier!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Sylvia our two sound a lot alike as far as being easily frustrated and selective about who he bonds with. I have another post scheduled in a couple of days about what to look for in lessons, and I think what was most important for us (and perhaps many parents) is finding a good fit with the teacher. If we hadn’t found Caleb, I doubt Kieran would have wanted to move up – or done as well as he did!

  3. Ruth Mitchell

    I really think you made the perfect decision and the small class went a long way towards ensuring success!! I am sure you remember your swimming lessons down at the swimming beach at Lake Shawnee…you thrived and grew in your skills SO quickly!!! I was bragging about you when I was telling people about Kieran’s swimming lessons. A not always pleasant part of parenting is giving them the room to spread their wings and fly!!! You did wonderfully!!! I wish I had been able to see him in action!!!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Maybe I’ll have to take the camcorder out and film him on one of his last two days ;)

  4. I really agree that the most important aspect of Kieran learning how to swim was that HE was ready and wanted to do it. From that first time that he was over his head in the water, you observed that he had the basic physical development required to swim and that he had the desire.

    What I’ve learned as an Unschooling mother is that those are the only two requirements for learning anything: maturity/physical development and desire to learn. With those two requirements in place, lessons are sometimes not even necessary because the child will simply try and practice until he/she has achieved the skill level that he/she desired to reach. It really is quite remarkable when one stands back (as the parent) and observes this happening.

    Congratulations to Kieran on achieving an important life-skill and on discovering his own power to learn!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Absolutely Patti! I wouldn’t have even thought about lessons had he not asked, and he already loved the water so much anyway. I am glad that we did the lessons though – I would not have thought to do some of the things with Kieran that he learned at the pool, and he had so much fun with another adult :)

  5. Lisa Baker   organicbabyatl

    Thank you so much for this post. My daughter also took a swim class for three year olds and up this summer–not a mom and tot class–and it was hard. She really wanted to do it. I was really hesitant. She has sensory processing disorder, and her main symptom is discomfort with water and wet sensations. She had never voluntarily gone in the pool above her ankles before this summer. I was so scared to let her take this class; I didn’t want to push her. But she really, really wanted to take it. The class is over now, and she’s still not putting her face or ears in the water. But she’s floating on her back, jumping in if I catch her, and occasionally even putting her mouth in to blow bubbles. Most importantly, she’s enjoying the water a million times more than she has before. And she’s talking constantly about how soon she’ll be able to put her face in and really swim. I don’t have a little fish yet, but I have a kid who’s becoming more comfortable with water all the time. She’s even started jumping in puddles and running in the rain!–two things that would literally make her scream in pain a few months ago.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to leave such a long comment! I just really appreciate you putting into words the real heart of what the issue was for me this summer. I wanted to give her the opportunity to challenge herself, but I didn’t want her to fail. In some ways, she and I both felt like she did fail–she refused to get in the water for the last three classes because the teacher had challenged/forced her (in a gentle way) to put her head completely underwater, and she was scared he was going to “make” her put her face in again. So it’s been an emotional issue for me this summer, this balancing the challenge with potential (or actual) failure. But it wasn’t a failure: she still loves the pool. And every time we go, she gets braver and takes more risks in the water. (I’m probably the only mom in the world who’s happy about her three year old “taking more risks” in water!)

    But you’re right–it really is scary letting our kids take on new challenges. We can’t know if they’ll succeed. They can’t know either, I guess–that’s why they have to try.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Oh wow Lisa – your little one did SO much! I can’t imagine how she does a back float without getting her face wet – that’s what Kieran didn’t like about back floating for the longest time, his head went too far under (it must have something to do with how very little body fat our little ones have!!). Now he knows to stick his belly way up so that his entire body can float, but his head still submerges a little bit. But really – what great leaps your daughter made!
      As far as the teacher challenging her – it sounds like she got pushed a little too far. Kieran almost had a similar incident with his teacher and a slide – the teacher kept asking Kieran to go down, Kieran didn’t want to and came over to sit by me. Fortunately, I had the chance to intervene and say (in front of the teacher) “Kieran, he won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. Just tell him no.” (Of course me telling him that about going down a slide was different from your situation.)
      But yes, I’m glad I got talked into letting Kieran have this challenge – what fun to watch our kids soar (or float, as the case may be)!

  6. Leah

    yay Kieran! That is awesome how quickly he learned. When i give H something frustrating (like a puzzle) and he says, “I can’t do it!” or some other defeated phrase. I tell him, “yes, you can, and you are! Look how good you have done so far” and if he wants to quit, I let him. He hasn’t really done any skill mastering like swimming; he did soccer, but it was pretty much just a bunch of 3 year olds running around on a field. LOL. Maybe he needs some kind of challenge, I am thinking of gymnastics this winter. :)

  7. Sheila   agiftuniverse

    I think kids learn a lot from experiencing that “defeated” feeling, and then discovering that they can push through it. You were there to tell him “you can say no” and “I know you can do it,” but for the most part, this was his fight to come up against and win. Hopefully he will remember that lesson when he comes up against challenges in the future, from learning to read to learning to drive a car to leaving home: “Just because I feel like I can’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. Just because I failed the first time doesn’t mean I am a failure.”

    It’s hard to step back and let our kids learn this lesson, but it sounds like Kieran was ready and did great.

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