There are some children with whom you have to kind of “rip off the bandaid.”
These are the little ones who might be used to you holding on to the bicycle and, let’s say, you just remove your hand one day and let them go so they can see what all they can accomplish on their own. All of a sudden, the child realizes what she can do all by herself and is just so very proud.
These are the children who you hold in the water and then, just to show them how easy and fun it is, you bob under a wave and emerge, totally unscathed, revealing how much joy can come from being willing to get your heads wet. It is an achievement and the little one learns that safe water play can be a whole bunch of fun.
I’ve seen this method work, with both my own children and those of others. It’s amazing to see their eyes light up as, all of a sudden, they realize what all they can accomplish.
But, sometimes, that just doesn’t work.
My youngest child was working on back floats. Her swim teacher stood behind her, his strong forearm stretched the length of her spine, supporting her as she stretched little limbs and took deep, lung-filling breaths according to his instructions.
And then he moved his arm.
She panicked. Her arms flew forward and her legs kicked up and, of course, she sank down. Now, he didn’t let her really sink– he was right there! He quickly righted her and gave her a big, bright smile, “Look at what you did! All on your own!”
And her green eyes were huge, stunned, and, well, livid.
For the rest of the week, any time he would try to help her do a back float, her little arms would reach behind her head and grab him. She’d grasp and flail until her fingers found purchase somewhere on his arms.
He’d gently pry them away and remind her she needed to relax and open up her arms so she could float. “You need to let go,” he’d tell her.
But, over and over again, I’d see her arms snake back to hold him. I could see her struggle against it, but, in the end, she couldn’t stop herself– she’d cling, desperate for the security.
Finally, one day, her teacher knelt before her, looked in her eyes and just asked, “G… why won’t you just relax and let go? It’s the only way you’re going to get this.”
She looked back at him solemnly, twisted a tiny piece of lacy seaweed around her wrist like a bracelet, and said:
“I can’t let go because I’m so afraid you’ll let go.”
He looked shocked. “But, G, I have to let go in order for you to do a back float. You can do this! I know you can.”
She turned away, blew some nose bubbles, and I thought she was dismissing him.
But she flicked a long, wet braid and said, “It’s okay if you let go. But I trusted you. You told me you wouldn’t let go and then you let go anyway. I don’t know what you’re going to do now.”
Her teacher, whom I had watched effectively teach child after child to back float in this same method, looked like he’d been kicked in the stomach. He opened his mouth to say something, then simply closed it.
The lesson went on.
The next day, Mr. Andrew called G. over to practice a back float with him. He stood behind her. Lowered down to kneeling. Rested her head on his shoulder. And said, softly, “I’m right here. I’m going to help you get into position and, when I’m sure you’ve got it right, I’m going to let go. I will NOT let you sink, but I’m not going to hold you. Okay?”
And did her first ever successful back float.
It took a strong foundation of honesty and trust for her to lose her fear of letting go…
I can’t say I blame her.