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Tantrums. I’ve been seeing a lot of these as I wrap up the second week of the semester. Swimmers are beginning to form opinions about what they like and what they don’t, they’re giving their parents a hard time about getting in the water, or they’re just coming in with expectations that cause them to breakdown. Tantrums are part of the package when working with children so let’s take a moment to discuss how these breakdowns can be handled by both instructors and parents.

Let’s start by acknowledging that there are obviously different types of tantrums which are caused by a multitude of reasons that can’t all be included in this post, but I want to share my experience around these breakdowns in and around the pool. Thus far, in my seven short years of teaching, there has never been a child who I haven’t been able to calm down while in full tantrum. That’s not to say that after one emotional fit, they were never upset during any lesson from that point on, but in each moment where one of my swimmers became seemingly frustrated or angered by a circumstance, I found myself capable of approaching them with the right mindset to soothe the situation without fail. There are two very simple, but important ways in doing this:

  2. Get yourself to their level, physically AND mentally

Now, the first one is more parenting 101 than swimming 101, but it’s pretty straight forward nonetheless. If you’re feeling frustrated or angry about something, are you ever thinking rationally about whatever it is you’re frustrated or angry about? No, probably not. And do you like to be told to calm down or get over it when you’re feeling that way? Definitely not! So take the time to listen to why your child is giving you a hard time. Just the other day, one of my swimmers who loves being in the pool came yelling at his nanny about not wanting to get in the water and instead of listening and figuring out what the problem really was, his nanny went right into demanding that he stop acting up and to follow directions. This only escalated the problem and it fell to me to sit with my swimmer and discuss what was going on.

In moments where a child is screaming or crying uncontrollably, it’s important to first get them to take a breath. This isn’t going to stop the crying, but if you can emphasize the fact that you want to understand them, but can’t because they’re crying, it can slow them down just enough to want to explain themselves. This seems a bit silly, but in 7 years, it has yet to fail!

Listening is the first step to calming your child down enough to get them back to their cheery, adorable selves, but the next step is about truly understanding what you need to do or who you need to be for your child to snap out of this “uncontrollable” behavior they’ve fallen into. To do this, it’s so important to be at their level, physically. It can be a challenge for anyone to connect with someone who isn’t at eye level with them, so make sure you’re with them in their space. After you’ve been able to listen and calm them down a bit, give them what they need in a way that best suits the situation you’re in. Now, the swimmer whose nanny wasn’t submitting to his behavior wanted his mom to be the one watching him swim. I clearly couldn’t grant that for him, but I was able to compose myself and acknowledge his request in such a way that allowed him to understand that although his mom couldn’t be there to watch, she could still be a part of the lesson with videos of the two of us having a blast in the water. Had this not worked, I would have tried a second or third option, but it all comes down to being who we need to be to support or children.

Now, I fully understand that there are tantrums that cannot be counteracted with rationalization, but if you take nothing else from this post, take away that reactive behavior like temper tantrums cannot and will not be resolved with our own reactive behaviors. Let’s get to work on being deliberate and welcoming with the language we use when addressing our children’s behavior.

What have you noticed about the tantrums your children have had recently? Were you able to snap them out of it? If so, what did you do to make it happen? Let me know.

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