This is my stepdaughter Abi (8). The picture speaks many words. Abi is confident, cheeky, dramatic and always singing. Always armed with her quick wit, she is a master (or madam!) of managing to get herself out of trouble by making others laugh. Those who meet her never forget her: she is our shining light, our star.
We have never been pushy parents – I see too many pushing children through auditions and working numerous rehearsals around and sometimes during school hours. I watch from a distance and see the toll it takes on their little ones. These parents I have known since school. They too used to audition for shows. One mum in particular desperately wanted fame (I think the writer Judy Blume classed this type of person as a bun head). She now wants the same for her daughter. Nor are we pushy in the sporty sense. We are not the lone parents standing up to watch our child win a swimming gala race, shouting “faster, faster” from behind the video camera, then giving a twenty minute lecture about technique and how this will evidently need work- even though their child won the race and even had time to tread water and check where his competitors were in relation to him!
Whatever Abi wants to try her hand at, within reason, we let her try. She will find her niche someday but needs the opportunity to try things out first. We have encouraged swimming though. When Abi was little we lived in Cornwall near a river. We figured swimming was essential for safety purposes so enrolled her in the local swimming club. Abi was four. We spent ages choosing swimming costumes (“not that one, it hasn’t got FiFi on!”), goggles and floats. We made it exciting with songs and games, then the day came.
It started much as it ended: Abi, despite being surrounded by peers she knew, screamed! I don’t mean shouting and crying which echoes around the sound-magnifying hall, I mean deep breath, full lung scream! We reassured her that she would be safe and went to the cafe in the hopes that she would calm once we were out of sight. We could still hear her from the cafe. We snuck a peek through the window to see her clinging on to the teacher, legs hitched high out of the water.
At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked why Abi would have such a fear of water. We couldn’t give an answer. We had never “dropped” her in water, she had never been out of her depth. She relished baths, enjoyed splashing around and loved water toys. We couldn’t understand it.
The next week was a little calmer, but Abi continued to cling to her teacher. And so it went on, sometimes screaming, sometimes not. Never jumping in and never letting go. Her peers moved up a class, Abi stayed put. On bad days, the tannoy would boom “Would the parents of Abi come to the poolside please” and we would have to fish her out. We gave up. We figured Abi would learn in her own time. Just like she did with potty training (on her terms), riding her bike (on her terms – she would not let us help!), tying her laces (on her terms) and getting dressed (you guessed it! On her terms!). We don’t always give in to Abi but we choose our battles wisely.
Fast forward to eight years old. Abi is in a school swimming gala. She struggles to swim a width whilst her peers are diving in the deep end. She watches them intently. She decides she wants to do what they are doing. Abi has finally set her terms. Now is the time!
We enrolled Abi in three 1-1 lessons so they could gauge which class she should be in. Over the summer, in three half hour slots, she mastered swimming a front crawl, swimming a width, jumping in the shallow end and swimming for short times out of her depth. She is now having group lessons. Her swimming peers are mainly younger than her by a year or two but she is driven by determination to “show them” at the next school gala and dive in with the boys. Today she was made an example of swimming a width front crawl. The others had to watch and copy. Today she jumped in the deep end for the first time.
Today she smiled.
Abi has decided she actually likes swimming now and is keen to learn everything there is to learn. Abi has decided she will not only “show them” next year but will win too. It is such a magical thing to watch your child grow in confidence. All it took was the opportunity to do it….
…… on her terms!