Leading with positive language is my first step with new students. My own father encouraged me with such language, calling me “Jean, The Great” again and again during our “competitions.” This was his way of inspiring me to race to the car, the ski-lift, or to the end of the pool. My goal was always to impress my Dad (and maybe show off a bit, too.) His use of positive language also caused me to really feel proud of myself.
Seeking a parent’s approval is the goal of most children. For this reason, I use lots of toys and equipment for success. When you have a high achieving child, it can be challenging, as it should be. After all, no one wants just anyone “walk’n over their kid!” But, as you know, when a child doesn’t want to do something, it may get tiring.
Dad smiled when I was the strongest, fastest, bravest, but he never let me win. I had to earn it. In the same way, I do a lot of racing with younger students. It makes the lesson more fun and structured at the same time. They enjoy being in competition with me… their teacher. I also talk to them about swim team, a possible competition in their future.
Using positive language about all the fun they will have in water, before they even put their faces in, works wonders. There are some competitive-by-nature children, for whom the will to improve and be stronger than everyone else will be all the motivation they need. There are other children that simply want to improve. And of course, there are those children who fall in between these two types. No matter. When children focus on improving, there is no stopping them. This is my goal in class: to coach and guide each child to be their best, whatever that looks like.
My lessons may sound like therapy. And, actually, I do have swim therapy for some students who have extra fear or blocks since these students just need extra time. After decades of teaching, I have honed my methods to work with every type of child. These methods include only reinforcing good behavior, and the tried-and-true method that a student can get out of the pool when the 3 skill sets are finished. For a reward, a student can stay and play, but only, “if it’s ok with your parents.”
Keeping much younger students focused, like toddlers, is a skill I have in spades. With these children (who say the darndest things), I’ve heard it all. These funny conversations provide me with great joy.
Using positive language and creating a positive environment are two of the keys to success. It is these that provide the foundation to the trust built over the course of the lessons. I’m blessed to see the same students week after week, year after year. These relationships of trust are built when students are at a very young age. Many children haven’t yet been told what to do by someone besides their parents. They may think that if they cry or run away or throw a tantrum, they will not have to do something that they have never done before. This belief may lead to surprise when they hear the words: “Miss Jean is in charge.”
This may be why the first lesson may be the hardest. This is when habits to “get out of something,” simply don’t work. However, by keeping the lesson positive and reminding them they can pick which skill they want to do first, students learn that I am on their team. They can ask for “a moment” or “wiggle time.” And, of course, I also give lots of breaks. But we always complete the skill sets.
I joke with parents that their children will be working as instructors and lifeguards for me someday, so parents will get all the swim lesson money back when their child turns 16. In my own experience, my children were lifeguards and I took great pride in being able to point out to my students: “My son is the lifeguard working over there.” Lifeguarding, a first job of serving those in one’s own community, may lead people to become first responders, like doctors, police officers or firemen or firewomen. I have parents tell me they were swim instructors, camp counselors and lifeguards themselves. It is both in understanding this, and in the knowledge that a child that swims is a child that is safer around water, I consider myself very blessed that I teach children- and adults- to swim. Steven R. Covey, famed author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” said it best: “The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.” —Stephen R. Covey. Thank you for allowing me to invest my time with your child.