Last summer my five-year-old son would not get in a swimming pool unless I was holding him or he was in a life jacket. It is pretty safe to say he was scared to death of water. I loved holding my small son, but I was starting to wonder if he would ever want to swim on his own.
At the close of this summer I am happy to report my, now six year old, son is a little fish in the water. He swims free style, back floats, dives and chases after floating and sinking pool toys. He changed. How did this happen so quickly? What made him choose to change?
Last year he didn’t’ want it enough to get out of his comfort zone, but this year he was ready to take a risk. What would make him think risk is good all of the sudden?
1. He stayed optimistic by telling himself he would do the new skill at some point.
2. He progressed incrementally allowing himself to experiment until he felt comfortable.
3. He watched those who were more advanced at the skill and modeled after them.
4. He kept connected to a power source. (Me; even if I was only just close by.)
5. He recognized the skills he needed to learn and sought proper instruction
6. He tried the skills over and over again even though they were not perfect yet. (It is important to point out I praised all his efforts. I never criticized his bravery.)
7. He trusted that he was up to the task. He had what it took to become a swimmer.
8. He expected more and more out of himself all the time. “Now I will hold my breath longer…I am going to swim to the next crack on the wall.” ( I still supported. I still praised. I stayed interested and involved.)
9. He learned how to come up for air to keep from drowning.
10. His skill increased his confidence and he took off after that little water ball without thinking about fear. He tested himself and passed.
That’s how it happened. Now he can swim.
When children can’t swim parents don’t panic. They just calmly wait for their child to go through the learning process while praising, instructing, and practicing patiently together. A parent who is really serious about teaching their child to swim will want more opportunity to work on skills, so they will take their child to the pool frequently and maintain the optimistic, patient, confident attitude which encourages success.
Learning any new skill is similar to learning to swim. While there may be a few technical differences, the process is constant. People who repeatedly have obedient children understand this process and make it work for their parenting. They also know that just like the parent who is concerned about helping master the swimming skill, the more skill practice the better.
Take a look at that list above again. Each one of those skills can be applied to learning to follow instructions, learning the steps to accepting a no answer, or learning how to disagree appropriately instead of getting angry. All of these are skills and require going through the same learning process as learning swimming.
Two Principles To Remember
There are two points which probably need explaining. Number nine, above, “He learned how to come up for air to keep from drowning.” applies to other skills like this. When a person is working on a new skill they can get overwhelmed from time to time and feel like they are drowning. Have you ever heard a child plead to quit piano, or ask not to go to swimming lessons that day? It happens all the time. This is called hitting the wall. Things have either become too hard or too monotonous to want to continue with the same effort. Maybe a failure was involved. Those instances are especially hard to overcome.
Life has lots of walls in it. Everything we do that is worth while will be hard at some point. And, after we pass through the difficult time, or break down the wall, then we finally feel what real success feels like. Many people try to make up the success feeling, but it can’t be fabricated. You don’t fully feel success unless you have struggled a bit first.
Just like coming up for air stops drowning, doing other things, like family activities seem like a breath of fresh air to a child who feels like the only thing they ever talk about is their problems and behaviors. Taking a breath of fresh air, regular family activities, helps strengthen the child to break through the wall that feels like drowning.
Second, he chose. We can’t make children become obedient and respectful any more than I could make him learn to swim. It can’t be done. Each person must choose to be obedient. Just like going to the pool regularly encourages someone to master the swimming skill. Making our home environments structured, peaceful, and patient will encourage children to learn the skills needed to choose and master obedience. Don’t forget, these skills, just like the butterfly stroke, takes regular practice in order be used when needed.
So, if the choice is up to him, what is my role in the learning process? I am the power source, the strength, and the example of how it is done. I am always working on my communication skills too, so I am the leader and the inspirer. I also set the tone and structure in the home to make learning more inspiring and effective for my children.
What About Me Then?
What if my skills of communication, calmness, patience, and teaching aren’t what they should be to inspire my children or to be good examples?
Look at those steps above again. That’s right. They apply to us too. We parents are going to go through the same learning process as our children as we improve our behaviors and learn to govern ourselves. The good news is, as soon as we start, the sooner our families will also start stepping toward self-government.
Step four above, looking to a power source, is different for parents. You may be able to look to your parents, but don’t ever forget that the best power source, God, is always there for us to call upon. If husbands and wives are both using the same parenting principles they also make the perfect power sources for each other. Work together.
Step nine, coming up for air, means that as parents we need to remember to improve ourselves by filling ourselves with good words and thoughts.
“…yea, seek ye out of the best abooks words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;” D&C 109:7
Studying scriptures and words from our leaders and reading inspired works are like a breath of fresh air to a drowning soul. Schedule time in your day, even if it’s only fifteen minutes, to study and freshen yourself.
Parenting is hard work. It can often feel like you will drown. I know that. I have had my share of those days having two out of control foster youth and two tantrum toddlers all at the same time. It feels like you are going to go under, but you won’t if your remember the steps above and seek help from trusted sources.
At the end of your long swim, called life, your loving Heavenly Father, will be there to say, “You did the hardest part. You did what no one else wanted to do; and I love you for it.” (Parenting A House United by: Nicholeen Peck)
Visit Nicholeen’s blog for more answers to your parenting questions at http://teachingselfgovernment.com