Now that the summer is over and the kids are back in school, I thought I’d take this time to reflect on our latest experience with Summer Camp. The daycare located on site where I work offers summer camp for children entering kindergarten through those entering fifth grade. My son is a veteran now, since this was his third time in the summer camp program. This year was my daughter’s (who just started kindergarten) first time. Up until this summer, she was technically still in the preschool that is offered for the younger kids.
For my daughter, everything new about the way things were done in summer camp caused her to be nervous. She adapted to riding the bus on field trips after I chaperoned a couple of the first ones and she decided that riding the bus wasn’t such a big deal after all. She adapted to field trips in general, even ones I couldn’t go on, both because her big brother was always with her and because she had a great time. She got to know new kids in her class and adapted to making new friends.
The two things she didn’t come around to liking were swimming lessons and what the summer camp called “sports day”, or something very close to a physical education intro to organized sports sort of class. She very strongly disliked both of them with all of the emotion that her little body could generate.
Both my son and daughter disliked sports day enough that getting us out of the house on Wednesday mornings (the day that was sports day) was more than a chore. They’d think of every way possible to delay leaving the house so that we’d arrive late enough that they didn’t have time enough to participate. From waking up crying or just crabby in general, to dragging their feet getting dressed or eating breakfast, we never left on time. After a while, I just decided to stop trying to make them go, and scheduled shopping trips or doctor’s appointments for Wednesday mornings rather than spend all my time nagging them to go. They run around all day, and neither of them are in any way out of shape. I figured it was alright to negotiate this one away.
The last one, swim class, was tougher. I want both my kids to learn how to swim for their own safety. I never formally learned myself, and can sort of get by enough to splash my way through a swimming emergency if need be. For my daughter, she was literally terrified about going. She’d cry in my arms when I dropped her off at school, something she hasn’t done since she was three. She would wake up on swim lesson days sobbing so hard I could barely understand what she was saying and I often thought she was going to make herself sick.
I tried to ask her what was making her so scared of swim lessons. She couldn’t really tell me other than she just really didn’t want to go. I tried explaining that the swim instructors would be there, and her teachers would be there, and that nothing bad was going to happen. Nothing seemed to help her. She would go to the class, but she’d opt to sit next to her teachers on the bench, while her classmates would go in the water and splash around. At this age, none of them are really swimmers, and lessons mostly consist of getting their face wet and floating. Eventually, I let her stay behind at the summer camp and hang out with her brother on swim lesson days (they sent girls as a group on one day and boys as a group on another), rather than go with her class to the pool.
I know that others would probably have pushed her to conquer her fears, or somehow made her just suck it up and go, but that wasn’t what my gut was telling me. She was so out of sorts and so communicative about how distressing she found the lessons, that I felt it was alright to let her skip this year. There will be swimming lessons again next year. She will have another chance at trying. I felt it was better to listen to her feelings and find a way to work with them and validate them, rather than just forcing her to do something that’s “good for her.”
For me, listening to my children and helping them to conquer there fears at their own rate has always been more important to me than forcing them to get there on my terms and in my timetable. They’ve managed to accomplish things they first were afraid to, and they have done it when they felt safe enough and ready to do them. Perhaps it’s going to take longer this way, but in the end, I hope that I’ve helped them to feel confident that they can step back and take a breather from life when they need to every now and then, as long as they give it another try when they are ready.
by Rocket Science Mom
Photo graciously provided by amanda.venner , through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved