Helping your child handle new experiences

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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

Let me start with a story about another child. This one was thrown in the water at the ripe age of six months. She startled her mother by holding her breath, opening her eyes and floating. This is a natural response. The warm swimming pool water reminds the infant of the womb, so a child – if young enough – won’t freak out or thrash or think she’s drowning. Do this often enough, they say, and your child will never fear the water.

That child was me. And it worked – I love the water, and everything you can do in it. I love to swim, snorkel and scuba dive. I’m learning to surf. I simply cannot get enough of it.

If only it had been that simple for A. From her first bath at the hospital where she was born, to her first immersion in our local swimming pool, to the first chilly dip in our local lake, she has protested being in the water with every fibre of her being. Everything water-based has been a struggle.

But we finally had a breakthrough on a recent camping trip. It was a hot, muggy day, so we were trying to convince A to get in the water to cool off. Come on down to the lake, I said, it’ll be cool in the water. Refreshing.

NO WAY, JOSE, she yells. She’s been doing that a lot. It is incredibly annoying, but I’m learning to pick my battles.

My partner Troy takes a shot at convincing her. Let’s build sandcastles, he suggests. Or maybe you can wear your water wings and come for a swim?

NO WAY, JOSE, she replies. NO WATER WINGS. NO SWIM.

We change tack. How about a hike instead? An adventure? Let’s go exploring!

This works like a charm. A gets ready in record time and soon we are merrily charging down a shady wooded path – little does she know that the hike is taking us up and over a small ridge to the next lake. After 20 minutes of hiking (and no small amount of toddler complaining) we reach a viewpoint where we can see the lake, glistening and green, spread out beneath us.

A is overjoyed to see it, surprising us all. A LAKE! She burbles. CAN WE SWIM?

Heck, yes! We scramble down, shedding our clothes. We didn’t pack anything because we didn’t think she would want to swim – no sunscreen, no hats, no towels – but it doesn’t matter. We’re swimming as a family and best of all, we’re having fun! A wades in, chest deep, exuberant. She dog paddles over to me, and back to Troy, and back to me again. We do this over and over again until we all get tired and need a break.

I’M SWIMMING, MUMMY, she says. She’s grinning from ear to ear and my heart is so full. I’m not sure what alchemy we did to get her into the water so willingly – maybe she was feeling too hot, maybe the water was warm enough, maybe the tiny lake devoid of people was the push she needed to shed her fears and dive in. Maybe it’s because this was the first time we had eased up on the pressure, and let her set the pace.

That night, we talk about the day, as is our customary bedtime ritual, and she tells me again and again the story of her swimming adventure. I cuddle her as she drifts off, and I wonder how much of our perceived problems with parenting come from too much pressure, about the wrong things, at the wrong time. Maybe it’s just a question of letting her be the person she needs to be, the way she needs it to be. To let her grow into her own person, on her own terms.

 

Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.

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