Monday, October 20, 2008

Can You Learn to Relax as a Parent?

Something might happen!!

Today's parents of infants and toddlers seem obsessed with safety. We see kids in our lobbies and at the malls wrapped so tightly in their strollers with neck rollers and five point harnesses, that they would be safe in a NASCAR car crash. Is the average parent afraid they are going to lose their child's stroller going over a 100 foot cliff?

I have picked up in our lobby a child's safety catalogue that sells visors to keep the soap out of a child's face while washing their hair! No wonder we see children afraid to be splashed as they sit on the step waiting for their swim lesson!

The debate rages about the merits, good or bad, of constantly washing the kids hands with anti-bacterial soap. Does that give rise to a cleaner child or a child more susceptible to getting an infection or illness? I grew up in a house where the five second rule applied. Ohhh, come on, tell me you have never eaten a roll or a piece of licorice or fruit that fell on the floor.

During our training classes for our instructors, we prepare them for teaching new students who come to our programs after their infant/toddler stage. Many of these children, that are late three or four year olds, have not had any swimming experience. If they have, it is often in a life jacket and floaties, as the parents in good faith have done their best to "protect" them from anything happening to them in a pool or aquatic environment. Often these children do very well, but the first few classes can be a stress filled time as the floaties and life jackets give them a sense of need for those items in an aquatic environment.

What are the two things a parent of a toddler tries to ingrain in their child as they begin to toddle around or be inquisitive? My research, very unofficial of course, is that the parent warns the child to: #1 Stay Away from the Pool and #2 Stranger Danger. We live in a world full of these warnings. Now, welcome to our world as swim instructors where the parents bring a non-swimming child to swim lessons and does what? They give the child to a stranger, who then takes them in the water.....without their floaties! WOW, that can present a challenge to the teacher and the child.

"Contemporary parents feel it's harder and harder to raise children, and the world is more and more dangerous," David Anderegg, author of "Worried All the Time" and a family therapist in Lenox, Mass. says. "But that is objectively not true," at least for middle-class and upper-middle-class children. "Although many parents are very anxious about their first child, with later children they understand how robust children are." Bringing Up Baby in a Bubble

During our training session with the team from New Directions Institute, they spoke to us about how a young child will mirror the facial inflections or expectations of a parent or teacher. If the parent has a worried look on their face or their hands are tense as they hold them, the child will transfer this nervousness to their own behavior or perception. We work with our instructors so that their facial expressions and words are warm and positive. In our parent and child classes we remind the parent who is teaching their child of the same things. Often times, these parents are unaware of their own facial expressions and what they may convey to their child.

So the next time your child falls down, try not to run over and check on them. Let them get up, check themselves out. If they are not interrupted by a parental inquisition about the state of their health, my bet is that they will go on about their business. When we first take a child underwater in swim lessons, we work on providing positive feedback both verbally and by our facial expressions when the child surfaces. Often times this little bit of encouragement can be enough to give the child confidence to move forward.

So the next time your little one falls over or has a bit of a playground conflict with another child, let them work it out. Relax. 99.99999% of the time, they will be fine. If you are sitting at swim lessons, soccer practice, gymnastic tumble bees, at the playground or wherever, do not dissect the entire practice or perceived bit of rough play by another child. Remind you child of the fun they did have and move on. Let your child believe that not every day or activity is a test. You do not need improvement in everything everyday. While we want to be aware of safe practices with pools, strollers, bikes and car seats, you cannot raise a child in a bubble. If you do, at sometime it is gonna burst. So relax and in doing so you will give your child the skills they will need when they are out of your shadow. Relax and enjoy your little ones. They are truly a gift from God.

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