Friday, January 15, 2010

Pushy Pushy

C has always been what I would describe as a cautious child. He was never one to climb trees or skin knees. He always kept an eye out for us on the playground and preferred the shallow end at the pool. While in some ways it was a blessing, we could trust his decisions at a very young age. We knew he wouldn't scale a bookcase if left alone in his room to read or climb counters to get to the cookies. However, at some point it turned from a simple fear of everyday dangers to phobias of activities that were perfectly safe. This seemed to manifest itself most with water. At age three he was fine going down kiddie water slides on his own with us waiting at the bottom but by age five he wouldn't even dunk his head in the bath tub. While on vacation in Maine with my family at a camp ground we had to give Christian a shower for lack of a bathtub. He literally screamed at the top of his lungs things like "why are you doooiiing this to me" and at one point, he threatened to call the police on us. After receiving some seriously nasty looks from the family waiting in line outside the bathroom we decided maybe sponge baths would be best until we got home. Funny thing was, he would lounge in the lake as long as water never went past his collarbone. After this incident we decided we had to do something.

What to do?What to do?

We decided the best approach was to force him to face his fear. We signed him up for Saturday morning swim lessons. We put him in with kids his age. Lets just say we didn't make it through the first lesson.





and that's just the first three minutes.

So we rearranged. We adjusted. and we put him in with children half his age. The first lesson was rough. He did okay for a while. Clinging desperately to his instructor even though the little bean had a life preserver strapped to him and a noodle tucked under his arm. He cried a bit to himself and mouthed silently to us to "please help me!" All the while the other kids jumped in with pure glee and joy spread across there lil faces. Poor Michael looked like he was being tortured.

But he persevered. and so did C. and we made it through.

By the end of the second class C was jumping in along with the other kids and he never looked back. Now when we go swimming C will let Michael throw him in the air, legs flailing, arms spread out, big fat smile on that sweet lil mug. Water in the eyes is no longer a painful experience but a minor inconvenience.

So as parents, should we push our children to face their fears? To brave them alone? This may be harder on us than our lil dudes and dudettes. Learning to let go of the one thing you want to hold on to is not an easy lesson.

Tell me about your experiences? In your opinions, is it harmful to push our loved ones or are we harvesting an independent and adventurous spirit?


  1. As a teacher I can tell you you are doing the right push them as long as it is not beyond "breaking point" or frustational level if you will. You made an informed decision switching him to the lower level swim class. The important thing to do is encourage them to embrace challeneged while starting at a level they will feel successful gradually moving into more challenging activities.

  2. Well if you didn't push him he would have a fear of the water his whole life. What kind of life is that? IMO I think you did exactly what should have been done.

  3. I think it depends how you handle the fear. Being experienced in phobia treatments, i can tell you that you gently push. You praise even a small step. A child will remember your loving push as opposed to you making him or her feel worse about that fear. Switching to a lower class was a good idea. When you make a decision, give the child some control over that decision. Some of fear is loss of control. Also children of divorce have some trauma issues of some kind. They are more fearful in general. Being a loving step mom, like you are will go a very long way in the childs fearfulness. You get to be the easy going one. Let the parents parent, you be the good guy! Let the child know that you are there for them and that you understand the fear also. That way they don't feel bad telling you about it, Also ask questions, what are you afraid is going to happen?? Listen first, then support his or her efforts. Even getting into the water is a big step for some kids.

  4. I also find it hard to know when to push and when to give my daughter the time to overcome things by herself. In this instance I'd say you did the right thing as he now enjoys swimming and may not have overcome the fear himself.