Monday, September 07, 2009

Stubborn, redux (or rather, reduced)

Ada's swim lessons went from bad to worse over the first week. At first content to sit with the parents and watch, after a few days Ada was crying that she did not want to go to the lesson. A couple of days Chris got her to sit on the side of the pool with her legs in the water, but that was all.

Week 2 started with her screaming to sit in my lap during the lesson. I refused, so that she did not see snuggle time as the alternative to the lesson. I felt like a horrible, unloving parent, but I knew that giving in was not the right tactic. The right tactic was apparently to refuse to take her any more, leaving this job to Chris. On Wednesday Chris bribed Ada with a snack, and she got in but didn't really participate in the lesson beyond following with the other kids on a little trek along the wall to deeper water where the others took turns getting out and jumping back in. Despite her limited participation, Ada returned home very happy with herself. She was proud that she'd gotten in.

Thursday involved another bribe, this time for participation. And the amazing thing is - it worked! After a few minutes of looking back at Chris and hesitating about joining the others, Ada finally decided the teacher could be trusted. She joined the kids in their mid-pool games and jumped into the water when it was her turn. She came home triumphant. My mother, Chris and I rewarded her with lavish praise (and a slice of pie which I'd just happened to purchase for dessert). I know it is probably not a great idea to make food the motivator for things we want her to do (especially when those things are actually fun once she finally decides to try them). However, at this point, she is so resistant to anything we want her to do that I am just thrilled that she let go a bit and participated - and enjoyed herself. Ada was so thrilled with herself, and we were thrilled with her too. Friday was a repeat of Thursday, but if possible it was even better. Ada participated in the the whole class, including the part where the teacher pours water on the kids' heads. While I was putting her to bed I asked Ada if she wanted to take lessons again. Yes, she does.

How nice to have a moment of positive experience and positive reinforcement of that experience. I am savoring it while it lasts.


  1. Way to go, Ada! As a hater of swimming lessons (but one who became a strong swimmer in spite of that), I totally get what she's going through. But also, way to go you two, for getting her in and sticking with it.

    Does her swim school have incentives, like ribbons or stars for mastering certain things?

  2. There are worse motivational tools than food. Works for me. dudelet is now fairly comfortable in the water and we should perhaps consider lessons again, though he went through a phase of refusing to have anything to do with his (expensive) swimming lessons.

  3. Your story of struggling with Ada takes me back. In particular I'm remembering when my son didn't want to go to preschool and I wanted him to go very much and he'd cry hysterically when I tried to leave.

    At one point, I asked the teachers if his behavior was normal and they had the nerve to say no. Eventually the nice head of the school asked me if I'd ever used "behavior modification".

    I wasn't sure what she meant and she said that some people might refer to it as bribes but she didn't see it that way.

    Any way, now he is a good student and while he wasn't pleased to return to school last week for 10th grade, he did so without tears or a tantrum.

    It is great to know that you can struggle over something and have it turn out happy in the end.