Let me premise this with my daughter has thrown some of the most monumental tantrums. Oscar award winning efforts. I remember one particularly well-coordinated effort with her brother at a shopping centre saw me gather them under my arms (because neither child was getting back in the pram) and hauling them to the nearest parent room, where I proceeded to lock us all in a feeding room while I cried… I may have then also called my husband and told him to come and collect HIS children because I’d had enough. But throughout all these monumental tantrums, my daughter has never flat refused to do something… until two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago my daughter refused to get in the pool. Yup. That’s right. Picture me, in a crowded pool, with said child in a swimming costume beside me… yet there was nothing I could do to get her in that pool. This is the same child who had been to many months of swimming lessons. This is the child who loved going to swimming lessons. This is the child who called me the worst mummy in the world when I suspended the swimming lessons while I adjusted to a new job, and then proceeded to plead with me every week to start swimming again. This is the same child who was not getting in that pool. I was gobsmacked… for all of a millisecond – at which point I quickly proceeded into anger. Yup. That’s right. Me, who holds a Masters degree in teaching. Me, who has been the executive teacher children were sent to when they wouldn’t behave for their class teacher. Me, who got the worst behaved children in her class because I could get them to love learning. Me, who could command 27 students to absolute silence with a single look… this was the same me who couldn’t get my own daughter to get in that bloody pool… It was also the same me who threw all her years of training and experience down the drain and handled this situation in the worst possible way.
It started out ok. I took a deep breath in. I breathed out slowly. I calmly reminded her of how she wanted to go swimming, that not five minutes ago she was excitedly telling me about how she was going to blow bubbles and float on her back longer than she ever had before… and she just looked at me with those eyes that said, “No flipping way am I getting in that pool.” And this is where it all went wrong. Instead of dealing with this situation like a calm, sane adult – I became the bull and she was the red flag. So of course, in all my wisdom, I pulled out the big guns first. No child of mine was going to refuse!! I told her that if she wasn’t going to get in the pool, she couldn’t go to her ballet lesson that afternoon. She said, “Fine.” So I told her that if she wasn’t going to get in that pool she couldn’t watch tv all week. She said, “Fine. I don’t like tv.” So, as I was totally calm right now and completely in control of all my emotions, I told her that if she didn’t get in the pool I would pack up ALL of her toys and put them in the bin…. and, of course, she said, “Fine. I don’t want my toys.”
Now, it would be at this point that many people would realise the situation was
getting ridiculous. But not me. I just saw red. Red. Red. Red. So I figured I had two options – absolutely throttle her… but I don’t believe in hitting my children so this wasn’t looking like a sensible option, so I chose the only other option I could see – send a text message to my husband that read, “Get down to the pool NOW because YOUR daughter won’t get in.” And when he didn’t respond in one second, I quickly followed it up with, “Where are you? Get here NOW!!!!!”
Perhaps it was seeing my words in text… but I started to realise I had well and truly lost it. So at this point I told her that I was too angry to speak to her and that we’d go back to our seat and wait for daddy… and in my head I followed this up with, “And let’s seeing how he f*@$%ing deals with it!” Because people who don’t swear out loud, swear in their heads.
Long story short. We didn’t get her in the pool. My husband was absolutely thrilled with what had happened. His words, “Usually it’s me who loses it and you remain calm, but for the first time ever, you are the one who has lost the plot. It’s nice to be one handling it maturely.” Silver lining for every cloud I guess. But it did leave me wondering what we were going to do about this. So this next bit is all I’ve since learnt, and what I knew from my previous experience and my degree in psychology and teaching, but completely failed to put into practice.
Don’t take it personally.
It’s not about you. It’s always about something else. Maybe not about what they are refusing – but definitely not about you.
Acknowledge how they feel. Try to understand them.
Children, just like adults, need to feel heard and understood. If we don’t feel that our feelings and opinions valued, we aren’t likely to entertain the idea that someone else is pushing on us. Let your child know you want to understand them. Mirror their emotions, e.g. It seems like you are really upset or scared because you are refusing to do something your usually really love. Do you want to tell me about it? Wait patiently for their answer. If they are experiencing a big emotion, it’s highly likely they won’t quite know how to explain what their feeling. Give their little brains time to work it out.
Lose the battle but win the war (for want of a better expression!)
This is big picture thinking here. Is this battle really worth it? For us, we need our daughter to learn to swim. We have a dam on our property. Not knowing how to swim is not an option. But at the same time, this individual swimming lesson is not the be all and end all. More important is her developing a positive attitude toward swimming. So she didn’t get in the pool. Were there consequences? Hell yeah. But the consequences were for not trying. We have a golden rule in our house – you don’t have to do everything or do it all, but you have to make an attempt. Not getting in the pool was not even trying. So there were consequences. In the past she has gotten in the pool and not wanted to go on her back, but she turned over for all of a split second, before turning back again. And that was totally fine. She tried. In this instance, she wouldn’t even get in. Not on at all. But we didn’t pick the battle. We didn’t force her to get in. It wasn’t worth risking her love of swimming and developing an aversion to all future swimming lessons, over one swimming lesson.
Be careful what you threaten.
Remember the cardinal rule of discipline – follow through. You are only taken seriously when they know you mean what you say. The minute you go back on a consequence – nothing you say will ever have the same effect. I have learnt not to threaten she can’t attend ballet lessons. I pay a lot of money for those ballet lessons. It hurts my wallet more than her common sense for her not to go. And yes, in this situation I did make good on my consequence. She didn’t get to go to ballet. And yes, it really gave me the irrits that it didn’t seem to bother her at all. In fact she was later heard making the comment, “That’s ok. I can just go next week.”
Re-group later, when you are calm(er) and rational.
There isn’t any point trying to work out a game plan when all you’re seeing is red. It took me hours to calm down. I was that angry. I might not have been yelling and she wasn’t completely aware of how mad I was, but I was MAD. No intelligent thoughts are going to come out when you are experiencing those strong emotions. So we had a rather quiet car trip home. My daughter was sensible enough to remain quiet for the car trip home and that gave me enough time to calm down.
Try find the cause of the distress, and deal with that.
I still don’t really know why my daughter loved swimming one week, and then refused to enter the pool the next week. I think it is a combination of things. She has a new teacher. While he is really lovely and so very sweet – he isn’t the bouncy, high-fiving teacher that her last instructor was. I think all the high-fives and ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm helped distract her from whatever it is that makes her nervous about swimming. I also think that she is a bit nervous about going underwater. It wasn’t that long ago that she levelled up and that now means she has to go completely underwater, rather than just her face. In her old group all the children were nervous about going underwater, but in this new group the other children don’t hesitate. I know I take comfort when the same things that make me nervous, make other people nervous. Maybe she’s like me? Who knows what is going on in that little red-head of hers. She can’t explain it and I can’t read her mind. But hopefully we’ll work it out soon.
So, how has this story ended? I suspended her swimming lessons for four weeks. She still has to come to the pool and watch her brother, but she won’t be allowed to go in. I’m hoping the whole, you always want what you can have, might work here. Either way, I know that she won’t be going in the pool anytime soon, and I don’t want to turn her off swimming completely. So this is a battle we aren’t choosing to fight right now. We are going to take the pressure off. In the meantime, we are also going to take her to a pool, just to have fun. We’re hoping that some non-structured, just kick around in the water time, will help remind her what she loves about being in the water. And yes, we’ve also shown her this photo, and others. We’ve spent time remembering how much fun she has had swimming… But we’re keeping those conversations short. No pressure. Watch this space in another two weeks. Let’s see how our plan works. Fingers crossed!