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