Thursday 27th July 2017
It’s a lovely sunny day and Charlie, Mummy, Auntie Kim and Baby Eloise are at the swimming pool. “Charlie, lets put our things in this locker and go for a swim” says Mummy. “Nooooooooooooooooo!” cries Charlie, “UP UP!!” Mummy picks up Charlie and explains that we are going to have fun in the pool and not to be scared.
Mummy gets undressed whilst Charlie holds on tightly to her leg or clings to her like a small monkey while she does everything one handed. After dropping numerous items of clothing in puddles of water, pulling out the entire contents of the bag while trying to get Charlie’s towel (Mummy is certain she packed this bag in order of when we would need things – ie. towel on top, nappies, underwear, nappy sacks, bribes……erm I mean snacks, at the bottom) and searching for the locker coin…Mummy and Charlie are finally ready to go swimming.
Today is Charlie’s first time at the pool in almost a year, and he’s a bit scared of getting in.
“Why don’t you sit on the steps with me?” suggests Mummy. “NO NO!” yells Charlie as he turns away from the pool (as if not looking at it will make it dry up and disappear).
Mummy, Auntie Kim and Baby Eloise get in to the water. “Why don’t you let Mummy hold you, I won’t put you in the water you’ll be in my arms?” says Mummy. “NOOOO” yells Charlie, as he stomps his feet.
“Okay Charlie, you stand there on the side and we will stand in the water next to you, is that okay?” asks Mummy. “Yes” says Charlie, unconvincingly.
Over the course of the next 10 minutes it is clear to Mummy that Charlie is in fact desperate to get in to the water but just can’t bring himself too. “Shall we get in and splash with Baby Eloise?” suggests Auntie Kim. “Noooooo” cries Charlie.
Mummy splashes Auntie Kim. Auntie Kim splashes Mummy. “Look this is fun Charlie, do you want to get in and splash us?” suggests Mummy. “Nooooooooooo” yells Charlie, who by this point has turned a blotchy shade of red. “Okay darling you don’t have to come in you stay there if your happy” says Mummy in her most soothing tone.
After 20 minutes of standing on the side and yelling NOOOOO at every gentle suggestion, Charlie eventually wants to come in to the pool. And for the next 20 minutes Charlie has a great time holding on to Mummy, splashing her and Auntie Kim and looking for an imaginary watering can that Mummy convinces him has been dropped in the water by Richard Rabbit (if you watch Peppa, you’ll know).
With just 5 minutes to spare of the hour long Family Swim session, Charlie finally releases his vice-like hold of Mummy and actually floats with Mummy holding him under his armpits. And he LOVES it! He has the biggest smile on his face. He practices kicking his legs and blowing bubbles with his mouth. Charlie and Mummy swim up and down the teaching pool, and by swim I mean Mummy holds Charlie under his arms whilst she does some sort of crouched down walk that is the only way a full grown adult can stay under water in one of those teaching pools – and by the end of it her legs are aching beyond belief!
The family session is over and it’s time to get out. “Come on Charlie we have to get out now and get dressed” says Mummy. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” yells Charlie, “IN IN!” Well this is typical, thinks Mummy, “Don’t you want to get out then we can go for a drink and something to eat?” “Noooooo” sobs Charlie.
And then comes that shameless sentence………”Mummy has some choc choc in her bag would you like to get out and have some…………….?”
So I wrote this account of our recent swimming trip in a fun way to reflect how I deal with challenging and potentially stressful situations, of which there are many with babies and toddlers.
When Charlie was little and these types of situations presented themselves I had many different reactions. I would feel anything from embarrassment that attention was on us, flustered because I didn’t know what to do for the best, upset that we couldn’t enjoy the experience, disconcerted and worried that it would always be like this and that Charlie would never ever have the confidence to get involved.
But, I have discovered that the best way to deal with these situations is to follow Charlie’s lead; let him decide what he does or doesn’t want to do, not to push him to do things and see how he reacts. If he wants to get involved he will, if he doesn’t he won’t. As long as I stick close enough to him, and let him decide his next move, he is happy, and that makes me happy and comfortable with the situation.
There was a time when I would have held Charlie in my arms and got in the pool with him and waited for him to calm down – convincing myself that he will enjoy it eventually. And for some children, throwing them in at the deep end (not literally in this case of course….) will work. But for others, such as Charlie, it becomes clear that that approach doesn’t just doesn’t work. I took him for swimming lessons when he was just 10 months old and he HATED it! He didn’t enjoy the regimented way of doing things and they had me dunking him underwater on just his second time in the pool. I get that these are their teaching techniques but it didn’t work for Charlie, and it didn’t work for me. In fact it put me off taking him swimming – hence the delay of a year before I took him swimming again.
If we’d have come away from that swimming pool on Thursday without Charlie so much as dipping a toe in the water I wouldn’t have minded – because he was happy to stand on the side and watch. When he was left to himself, he was quietly watching and taking in the environment, and that’s what he needs to do before he feels comfortable to join in. And that is totally fine. As it turns out he loves swimming now. We took him swimming again just two days later and he got in the water no problem and loved it from start to finish.