Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Night and Day

They are as different as night and day. And with that, brings many parenting challenges.

Yet again today, the boys' true characters came out in full force. And our recent experience at the local swimming pool has me wondering, pondering, struggling and questioning.

The boys are taking Preschool B swimming. They both passed the first session and they both fell in love with Dillon, their teacher. I have blogged about their individual Water Colour Portraits before. Their behaviour today, and how I handled it should be no surprise to anyone who knows us...but I am still struggling on how we deal with this in the grander scope of things - any insight, advise or help you, my wonderful blog friends can offer is greatly appreciated.

Last week was the first session of the Level B. The boys are registered in the same level. They got the same teacher - both were ecstatic. Unfortunately, I was not too happy as the class was HUGE and the skill levels really varied between the many children.

Happily, this week we discover that the class has been split into two. Both my boys are in the higher level section...with instructor Shawn. Their beloved Dillon is teacher the lower level class.

Can you say pool-side melt down?

I attempted to avert any huge scenes by quickly reassuring each boy.

To Anderson I simply told him that Shawn was a excellent teacher and that Shawn would teach Anderson how to jump higher than before and maybe even how to jump off the diving board into the deep deep water. Anderson unfolded his crossed arms. Anderson sucked up his pouting lip. Anderson gave me an over-sized affirmative nod. Anderson wondered off with Shawn yelling over his shoulder, "I will miss you Dillon". Off he went.

DJ, on the other hand, hid behind me and placed my right leg into a death grip. I had to pry him from behind me. He definitely did not want to go with the new instructor. I could feel his anxiety grow. DJ was not happy. He loudly claimed that he just wanted to stay with me. I calmly told him that Mommy was going swimming with Madigan in her class. His grip around my leg tightened. I turned around. Got down at his level and quietly explained, "DJ, you are a big boy. Dillon is teaching the little boys and girls. You have to go with Shawn. He is super cool and he is a friend of Dillon's. He will help you learn and swim and you will have lots of fun with Shawn. Look at Anderson, all by himself. You go be a good big brother and help him and Shawn. DJ, you are my big strong, brave boy and Shawn will keep you safe. You go show him what a great swimmer you are." Then I offered a couple of big hugs and a quick kiss on his forehead. Reluctantly, DJ headed off to his class.

Both boys did great. I love my new arrangement, I am actually in the pool with Madigan in a Parent and Tot swim while the boys are in the other side of the pool. I get to keep tabs on them and see their improvement. The new instructor came up to me after the class and indicated they are both very strong for their level. He commented that Anderson would be considered a strong "C level" and possibly an average "D level" swimmer and that DJ is a strong B, but needs to work on confidence and putting his face in the water.

I am super proud of the boys. But, I must admit, the level of anxiety and fear DJ brings to the table when things are changed, different or unfamiliar can be very disheartening. I only want to say and do the right things to help him push his comfort level. I fear doing or saying the wrong thing. I am concerned that I will allow him to continue to be a little perfectionist, who only likes things a certain way - his way or the high way. I want him to explore, take risks, and yes, to fail, then learn and grow from his mistakes and failures.

DJ has always been an all-or-nothing sort of boy. After his surgery at 10 days old we were told to expect developmental delays. Well, he rolled over weeks before his peers - was crawling and sitting on his own by 4 months, and walking before 10 months.

One day I was carrying DJ in to the rocking chair for a bottle. The phone rang, I picked up the phone and put down the bottle. Walked over to the rocking chair, gabbing away on the phone. DJ squirmed out of the chair, steadied himself - then took his first steps - well, actually his first 21 steps - over to the table and grabbed his bottle. Turned around and walked back. Yep. He just did it. He was never unsteady on his feet - always balanced - never crashed - never fell onto his bottom - NEVER.

We have noticed that DJ has done this many milestones. Even with school. We kept encouraging DJ to write his name. He never would. Then one day - there on his paper a D and a J...they looked well practiced...but they were not. He just waited until he knew (in his head) how to do it - and did it.

This past Friday, my hubby took DJ skiing at a local hill. Before this trip, DJ has had 5 lessons at another hill. He did great. On the last day of lessons Daddy and son tackled an intermediate hill (YEEK, says Mommy!) off the chair lift. DJ did super - he did amazing - he was comfortable - capable and enjoying himself. Fast forward to last Friday...well, a totally different story. DJ was afraid of the new hill. Not sure of himself. He complained, cried and whined the whole time.

Now, my husband is a skier. He was so looking forward to hitting the slopes with DJ. He had a very long and frustrating day. When detailing the day to me David said that what frustrates him the most is that DJ can do it - he just needs confidence and faith...and to accept that he may not get it all right the first time around.

How as parents can we help our 4 year old realize that there is a world of possibilities out there - hills to ski, oceans to swim and a whole world to enjoy and challenge - and that mistakes, apprehension and fear can all be conquered? I want him to know that it is ok to fail...we learn by our failures and mistakes. No one is perfect. Have fun. Live life to the fullest. I want to instill a high sense of self esteem and confidence in my son. I want him to reach for the stars, while having his feet firmly on the ground.

I never want my son to be hurt or humiliated, but I want him to explore and learn what his limitations are first hand - not by merely fearing failure and never trying.

My heart goes out to my little man. He is smart, athletic, sensitive and caring. I just want him to be all that he can be.

OK - this post is getting a bit long and a bit of a ramble.

If you have made it this far into the post - what do you suggest I do? How would you handle this? Have you faced this type of situation with your kids? Am I crazy? (maybe!!!) What are your biggest parenting challenges when it comes to behaviour? Am I alone in wondering what I am doing to encourage certain traits? Am I alone in wondering what I can do to encourage comfort levels to be pushed? Should they be pushed?

FISH, this parenting gig is not easy!


Tara R. said...

I completely understand having a son that doesn't like change or is apprehensive about different situations. It's hard to find the right thing to say, but it sounds like you are doing a great job.

Life As I Know It said...

My 6 year old was (and still is) always very shy, afraid of change, clung to my leg at every new experience. I could never sign him up for classes unless I was participating as well. For a long time I would get frustrated at seeing the other kids who always seemed happy to participate...not my kid! He didn't speak a word to his preschool teacher for the first 2 months...
We encouraged, but tried not to push too hard even though we knew he'd have fun doing something he didn't want to do. He's the kind of kid who would rather sit on the sidelines and watch (frustrating for a parent!). The only thing we 'forced' was swimming lessons.
This year he started Kindergarten and has come out of his shell a lot, although still quiet and cautious. I also realized along the way that this is just who he is. It's part of his personality (I'm an observer too), but society expects joiners not hesitant watchers.
Give it time...he may just need a few more years to gain confidence.
We're still figuring things out as we go especially since his younger brother is the total opposite!

InTheFastLane said...

My 8 year old has often been slow to warm up to things. He has finally, just this year, started enjoying the water and making progress in swimming. This was after many years of push and prodding. But, he had to be the one to decide that it was ok. For several years I tried to get him to play soccer and he did not want to even try, finally he tried it and loved it. But, again, it had to be his idea. I think patience and some pushing, but not too much are the best way to go.

Jenni said...

It sounds like you are doing exactly what you should be doing, encouraging but not pushing too hard.

My oldest has always been the shyest, but we just let him be who he was. He hated new situations, but I still do as an adult, so who was I to push? I always told him he was allowed to be uncomfortable and even express it, but not allowed to be disrespectful or mean.

I was really worried when at age 4 he would hardly even speak to my parents (whom he saw weekly), much less my ILs (whom he saw rarely). It embarassed my husband, but worried me b/c I knew that I had struggled with it for years.

We recognized that he just needed a much longer adjustment period than most people (I still do, I think). And he has really blossomed the last few years. He started his first organized sport last autumn and the first few weeks were tough, but instead of quitting, we just kept going. Now he loves it.

I think the best thing we did was not constantly dwelling on his apprehension. Instead of talking ad nauseum about how he needn't be afraid, embarassed, etc., we would just point out the good parts and then continue on as if there was no option of quiting, leaving, stopping.

Now if I could just get my 4 year old to be a little less friendly! She patted a stranger's butt in the grocery store the other day!

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

I have a perfectionist son as well. He was very reluctant to try any new academic endeavor, because he wanted it to be perfect. Writing was especially an issue. Now he is ten and he seems to be more okay with making mistakes. Somewhat. I notice that if he isn't the best at something, he tends to not try very hard at it.
I want the same things for him that you want for DJ and I am still not sure how to that other than to keep encouraging him to try and picking him up and dusting him off when he falls.

Kathryn said...

My oldest is a very cautious child. I think he will have training wheels on his bike until he passes his driver's test.
It sounds to me like you are doing all the right things. I guess everyone reaches their milestones at their own pace, and we shouldn't worry about when that might be. Right?

Pregnantly Plump said...

I think it sounds like you handled the pool issue well. I wish I had some advice, but we're a while off from that.