Swimming Lessons: Let Kids See Your Effort

When I joined my girls’ swimming lessons, I learned more than I anticipated: how important it is to let kids see your effort. I sent the article below to my email list 5 years ago. As I read it again, I’m reminded of Carol Dweck‘s work, which I write about here, and Jessica Lahey‘s book, which I mention here.

Hope you are enjoying your summer!

Swimming Lessons: Let Kids See Your Effort

let kids see your effortI write this as my body aches. Yesterday I had my third swim lesson alongside my daughters. When they started with their instructor a year ago, they were both quite fearful, my younger one not even willing to put her face in the water. And this was after six months of group swim classes. The instructor we found through friends promised that my girls would learn to swim. I had serious doubts.

Thankfully, he was right. My younger one now jumps in the pool happily and can even swim under my legs. My older daughter not only swims but knows several strokes: freestyle, the backstroke, the frog kick, the butterfly stroke and others.

I was so impressed with and thankful for the instructor, I joked that I could use a few lessons with him. And then it hit me — I could. So I asked if I could join my daughters’ lessons. He agreed to teach me, too.

After just one lesson I felt “schooled.” I not only learned a lot about how I could improve my swimming, I left remembering an old lesson in a new way.

The old lesson: focusing on the process or the progress is often more important than focusing on results or perfection. But the new twist was realizing how important it is for my children to see me not be perfect at something, then witness my working hard to learn how to improve at it.

My children actually delighted in the fact that I was not a good swimmer:

  • They were proud when they overheard me tell their grandparents and good friends that they were becoming great swimmers and that they could swim much better than I could.
  • When we swam together on various occasions last summer, they relished telling me I was doing the backstroke all wrong, which, by the way, is the only stroke that could get me across the pool.
  • My older one found it especially funny when I attempted to swim like a frog and would then sink, not get very far or not swim for very long. “Try it again, Mommy!” she’d squeal. I’d perform, and she’d laugh … not unlike the way adults ask toddlers to perform their new “tricks.”

But then, after my swim lesson, I could see their delight grew into something different. During the first lesson, after doing just a few laps with a kickboard to focus on kicking harder from my thighs, I was exhausted. The girls saw me out of breath and panting. I turned to them and said, “This is hard work! I can’t believe you can both swim farther than me.”

I could see in their faces they knew I knew how hard they have been working.

Our instructor made me swim a few more laps and then ended the lesson early. I didn’t end up swimming nearly as much as my daughters did during their lesson.

I don’t quite remember how I got through serving or eating dinner that evening. As the girls were getting ready to go to sleep, I was lying horizontally on the bottom bunk of their bed. Instead of my reading books to them, my younger daughter covered me with her blanket and said, “I’ll read to you tonight!” She read me a picture book of which I have no recollection. The girls then woke me up and told me to go to bed! I obeyed, remembering to take an Advil before I slipped into my own bed.

Our second lesson and third lesson were more of the same, except that I managed to stay awake a bit longer in the evening.

Before my own swim lessons, I had expressed appreciation for the results — the fact that my children could swim and swim well. Now, however, I express appreciation for the process — how hard they’ve worked to learn how to swim, and how hard they still work.

More important, I express this with fewer words and mainly through action. Again, they know I know how hard it is. They witness my appreciation and respect, and they feel it on a new level. As a result, their pride in their own hard work is deeper than it was before. I have also noticed, they have been complaining less about how hard swimming is.

This experience has made me wonder:

  • What more can I do (versus say) to show others I appreciate what they do?
  • How else can I grow in my life, instead of just talking about growing?

Feel free to ask yourself these questions, too. And let me know how you let kids see your effort!


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