My Preschooler and Sports: Why I Should Have Backed Off

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Image via Tracy Jensen

As your kids grow, are you finding some of the parenting strategies that were once gold aren’t as effective these days?

As my son approaches his fourth birthday, I’ve been learning that lesson the hard way. He’s a kid that thrives on routine and structure, and does well when we start to talk through new things a few days ahead of time.

So I shut up. We didn’t discuss class at all during the week, and when we drove to class, I simply told him to do his best and to have fun. 

For example, if a new babysitter is coming on Wednesday night, we will start talking about it on Monday, walking through the schedule of the next few days. By Wednesday, he’s comfortable with the idea, knows what to expect, and the hand-off goes smoothly.

Now, we are starting to enter the world of sports. Currently, he’s enrolled in swimming and absolutely loves it. During his last session, Austin was one skill away from graduating to the next level. To move up, he needed to demonstrate that he was comfortable going underwater for five seconds. 

This is something he was excited about, and something I’d seen him do on a range of occasions at the pool, so I wasn’t worried about whether or not he was ready. He kept talking about getting into the new class, so I approached this move in the same way I have with our other activities. 

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Throughout the week, when he would mention graduating to the next class, I asked him if he knew what he had to do to move up. We talked about taking his time underwater and waiting for the five count.

Week one of attempts: He was so excited that he kept popping right back up to the surface to celebrate. No dice.

During the week, I reminded him that it needed to be five seconds. At this point, he was was excited to try again.

Week two: This time he was tired when we arrived at class, so he cried until I stayed next to the pool. A classmate graduated – but he thought the new wristband was for him. Crushed, he cried again. During skill tests, he would get close but wouldn’t stay under for the full amount of time. It became clear that knowing people were watching or testing him made him too excited.

Week three: He kept staying under for a count of four. At this point, I’m frustrated, he’s upset, and we’ve managed to turn his class from something fun into a painful battle within weeks. 

It was clear I needed to do something differently. I could see that discussing a skill for sports or school is not the same as preparing him for routine changes. While he needs reminders of what he needs to do to pass the swim class, the ongoing discussion made that skill – that one, small component of class – the only piece that any of us were focused on. 

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So I shut up. We didn’t discuss class at all during the week, and when we drove to class, I simply told him to do his best and to have fun. Then I sent him off to the pool.

Within a couple of classes, he passed, with plenty of squeals and smiles.

I have a preschooler now, one who is waiting for me to let him get out there and try things more on his own. It requires different support and strategies than I’ve had to use before with my toddler. In a lot of cases, I think this simply means that Mom needs to be quiet. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

How do you help your child meet a new challenge? How has your parenting style changed as your kids have gotten bigger? 

What do you think?

My Preschooler and Sports: Why I Should Have Backed Off

Tracy Jensen is a writer, marketer, mother, fundraiser, marathoner, and music lover. A working, single mom of two kids ages six and five, she is notorious for doing things the hard way. In addition to writing for EverydayFamily, she survives suburban exile by blogging about life’s foibles at It Builds Character. She can be found at night ignoring the dishes and playing on Twitter. ... More

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1 comment

  1. Profile photo of mommy nhoj mommy nhoj says:

    I have to agree with you. Though I see myselfike that. I am a protective sister and I think I would be like that to my own children. Good thing I have my husband to remind me when to back off. 🙂

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