how to be a good parent: advice from an eighteen year old swim instructor

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1) Support your child. In swim lessons, this means you tell them they’re doing a good job when they pay attention and do their best to succeed. If they fail, that’s okay. You tell them what to work on next time, and you help encourage them by spending time helping them improve certain skills. In life, this means you do the exact same things, replacing “swim lessons” with karate/english homework/navigating the social hell that is high school/whatever your child needs help with.
2) Let their mentors do their jobs. For example, if you don’t know how to swim, don’t tell their swim instructor how to teach your child how to kick. Tips on how your child learns (e.g. “Kidface learns best visually/aurally/kinectically/by standing on her head in the water singing the ABCs”) are incredibly useful for the instructor. Telling the teacher “Kidface isn’t kicking right, can you fix that?” is one of the least helpful things ever. Mentors are well aware of both the strengths and shortcomings of their students, and when they have a class with extremely diverse needs it is impossible to teach to a single child with a single style of learning.
3) Reinforce positive behavior with positive outcomes and negative behavior with negative outcomes. If your child is becoming a distraction for other children in the class and their teacher has an incredibly hard time getting them to pay attention, talk to them with the teacher after class. Reinforce the idea that what is happening in class is unacceptable and neither you nor the teacher approves. Similarly, if the teacher comes to you asking for support, don’t just laugh them off or say you’ll let your child know and then forget until five minutes before the next class. Truly focus on making the learning environment you place your child in a supportive and engaging experience—that’s the only way children learn.
4) Work with the instructor—not against them. If you have an issue with a mentor or instructor, go to them before you go to their higher ups. If you notice that they have a hard time working with your child, don’t assume that they hate your child. Go to them and offer your support in fostering an environment that will work for your child, whether that means smaller class sizes or simply more time being allowed to play underwater.
5) Accept that your child will progress in their own time. Your child may not pass Preschool 1 on the first try. Your child may not pass Preschool 1 on the third time. This does not mean you swear at the teacher. This does not mean you complain that the teacher—who may be fifteen years old and terrified of her new job—is “the worst teacher your son has ever had” (even though it’s his first time in swim lessons). This means that you bring your child to the pool to practice outside of swim lessons, you have them practice blowing bubbles in the bathtub, and you tell them stories about how much fun being in the water is.
6) Compare your child only to themselves, never to others. It doesn’t matter whether Sally Swimmerlegs is passing the class—what matters is that your child has made progress in this session of lessons, and that is a thing to be damn proud of. Progress in any field should be celebrated and rejoiced over—then, and only then, will your child feel that working hard to accomplish their goals is a worthwhile pursuit.

Addendum: If your child has special needs, do not expect them to succeed without your support for those needs. Do not expect your swim teacher to read your mind and know exactly what to do with your son who has autism. Look for a teacher with experience, sign up for private lessons, or teach him yourself—but don’t be frustrated when people don’t read your mind. If your child needs to be taught separately from others, support that. If your child does not do well in mainstream classrooms, homeschool them. You can find support for every disorder, disease, and disability, and there is no reason for you to force your child to sink to the lowest common denominator over a difference in learning styles. Love your child exactly as they are, and support them becoming the best person they can be.

3 COMMENTS

  1. You are my kind of awesome. I have seen Kidface in classrooms, and you are spot on. Every one of your points is thoughtful and relevant. The last two main points are sticky for a lot of parents – I’ve seen comparisons poison friendships and damage children. Parenting is one of the most humbling things a person can do. For me, it has also been one of the most rewarding.

  2. On behalf of every coach and teacher EVER! This might be my favorite of all your writing posts… it feels so authentic, like you have seen all these things yourself! :S (So sorry if some parent yelled at you when you were 15)

    • Unfortunately I was the sad 15 year old in that scenario. Luckily my supervisor totally had my back in that situation, but I know there are many who wouldn’t. It’s sad to see the horrific ways parents will treat swim instructors–regardless of age.

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