Her whole body was trembling. She was terrified.
Margo’s swim lesson last week, was the last lesson of the day. She had been going to swim lessons at a different pool for a few years, but we hadn’t gone in about six months and now we were at a new pool. A new instructor. It was cold and windy outside and getting late. Even though we were indoors, she was shivering. A friend of hers, who was supposed to be in the same class, had cancelled because he was sick. All of the other kids had called out sick too! She was all alone, with a new teacher, in a new place and I knew she was petrified.
She held out for about ten minutes.
Then, finally, she stopped, looked at me, yelled out, “I’M SCARED!!!” And started to cry.
Of course you are! Oh, I love you!
There was nothing for her to be ‘scared‘ about. The instructor was beyond nice and amazing and he wasn’t pushing her to do something she couldn’t. I knew that she loved the pool. Her fear would have seemed silly to most people. But I knew that to her, her fear was real. She needed me, in that moment, to understand how she was feeling. (She’s 4 1/2) If you’re wanting to get your child swimming early on and overcome their fear for the water that they could potentially have, look into lessons like Thornhill Private swimming lessons and others.
I crouched down close to her and said, “Sweetie, I know you’re scared. It’s a new pool and it’s a new teacher, and your friend didn’t make it. You’re all alone and it feels funny, right?”
“Yes!” She said.
Then, the swim instructor (who is totally awesome), repeated almost the same thing to her. Validating her fears and letting her know that he understood how she was feeling.
I didn’t tell her that there was nothing to be scared of. I didn’t tell her to get over it. I didn’t say “You’re ok“. I didn’t call her a baby. I didn’t tell her she was being silly and that there was nothing to worry about. I also didn’t yank her out of the pool.
I simply validated her fears. I let her know that I understood how she was feeling.
Validating a child’s emotions is a really beautiful process. Once she was able to express herself, she calmed down, almost immediately. The rest of the lesson, she was back to her normal self, smiling and swimming like I knew she could. I know it’s not always that easy. Sometimes there is absolutely no reasoning with a terrified kid. Had she said she wanted to get out of the pool, even after telling me she was scared, of course, I would have let her get out. But, what I’ve found to be the case, most of the time, is that once a child is simply allowed to express his or her feelings, through tears, raging or even just words, the emotional charge dissipates.
Once I can accept my kid’s feelings for what they are, the rest is relatively easy. Trying to change the feelings of a child is virtually impossible to do, but often that’s what we try to do, and then it becomes a headache.
By telling my daughter that it was ok to be scared, she felt understood and accepted. She was not made to feel ashamed of her feelings. She felt supported and loved. From there, her confidence could grow. If I had told her to “stop being scared”, yes, maybe she would have carried on with the lesson, but what would that have taught her? That her feelings don’t matter to me? That she has to prove her toughness to me? (Important to note, I did not go on and on discussing her fears, it was just a quick acknowledgement). I also hope that one day, if she is in a situation where she should be cautious, she doesn’t just listen to someone who says, “there’s nothing to be scared about“, when everything in her gut is telling her otherwise. She needs to be able to trust her own instincts!
This week, at swimming, we were in the same scenario. One on one with the same instructor. Nobody else showed up, it was another cold and windy day (score on the accidental private swim lessons). But, you should have seen her swimming! She was going twice as far, twice as deep and was ten times more confident. I want my kids to grow up being tough on the outside and soft on the inside. To be in touch with their feelings and to never SUPPRESS their emotions just to IMPRESS somebody else! When my kids say they are scared, I just say it’s ok, and I don’t try to stop their emotions. I want them to know that their feelings and emotions are safe with me.