Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Who is in charge?

Raising children in a different culture than the one we grew up in, sometimes I find myself wondering if the perspective the teachers or people in positions of authority who come in contact with my children are "correct".  There is no one right way.  And who is to say what end result means you have done a good job as a parent? 

I took KB and KG to try out a new swimming class with the head coach of a swim team.  She gives private lessons as well as coach the swim team for the kids who join the team from the neighborhood.  She is a strong, somewhat reticent, but friendly enough person.  I took KB and KG for one trial lesson with her and we all liked her teaching.  She is firm with them without yelling at them.  The next day, I decided to also try out the "swim team" lesson.  After their half hour class, they had a half hour break and then they had to swim for another hour as part of the swim team lesson.  This was the first time KB was doing anything longer than half hour of active stroke swimming.  He plays with his friends in the pool for two hours.  But it is not the same since it is just play.  So when they started the swim team lesson, KB was OK with it for a short while.  But about 20 min into it, I saw his face looking tense.  Ten minutes later, I knew he was on the verge of tears.  The coach standing outside his lane said, "He is OK". 

Ten minutes later I saw him at the end of the lane with tears in his eyes.  I asked him if he was OK and he said he feels left out because every one else was better than him.  I didn't know that the other kids were all wearing fins for that segment of the session.  Naturally KB was not able to keep up with them.  I went and told the head coach that I was pulling him out since he had just had a class and he was also not happy since he was not prepared for this with fins etc.  She shrugged very disapprovingly and said, "OK if that's what you want to do".  KB's friend who was trying out the team also looked very unhappy.  He complained that he was tired.  His mom went and asked the coach what she should do about it.  The coach said, "If you pull him out now, he will think he is in charge.  Let him be in the water. He will manage". 

That got me thinking...is it so bad for a seven year old to feel like he is in charge of that situation? If he is really feeling tired, if it is the first time he was trying it out, he has had a class just before this and doesn't feel like he has the energy to cope, is it so wrong for him to want to come out of the pool just then? Why shouldn't a seven year old have reasonable rights like that? Why shouldn't he feel in charge? I know that if I had left KB there and insisted he finish it he would have survived.  But why put him through that torture?  I still feel I did the right thing.  KG too was in the same class but her attitude is totally different.  She does not get perturbed by all this and she has a little more stamina than KG because she is a better eater.  She enjoyed herself, finished the class and came out after the hour.

I went the next morning, got him the fins and kickboard and scheduled a semi private lesson for KG and KB with the head coach.  KB learned how to use the fins and kick board.  He learned intently the butterfly stroke.  I then took him to a friend's community pool and he practiced all four strokes with the fins on.  He told me today that he is now prepared for the swim team.  I feel, for his personality, I did the right thing.  He likes to be in control of the situation, feel prepared and do his best.  He did not enjoy not knowing what he was doing and he pressured himself to keep up with the kids who had fins on and he was truly exhausted.  It remains to be seen how he will fair in the next swim team class.  But culturally, the head coach is sure her way is right.  I should not have pulled him out.  She said to my friend, "It would be a realllly bad idea to pull him out" when she wanted to get her son out because he was tired.  But the way I raise my children, I feel they have their rights in certain situations and it is especially my responsibility as an adult to make sure they know that their wishes are respected and that I am in charge of it and not some teacher who does not know them.  To her it might have seemed like helicopter parenting, to me it seems like responsible parenting.  It is probably how one sees it.  I don't know what is the right thing to do except to do what "feels" right.  Well, let me see how the swim team lesson goes next week.  At least I feel he is prepared for it now.

30 comments:

meeraganesh said...

DD used to be the way KB was. She'd have full blown tantrums in the pool and not listen to instructions. It took us a long time to figure out that she was behaving that way since she has an initial inertia about all activities. If we had pulled her out of swim, (believe me, she embarrassed us enough to never want to go to class again), she'd have learnt that throwing a tantrum/crying will get her out of things she doesn't like. Also, I get the feeling that when we override a teacher's decision, we undermine the teacher's authority.

Swim's difficult, no doubt. Unfortunately, endurance can only be built by spending time in the pool and finding reserves of strength where none exist. 3 years later DD's still in swimming and looks forward to her classes as much for the challenge as she does for the playtime that follows.

Just my 2 cents....

noon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
noon said...

Hi Meera - I think my post probably didn't clearly say what happened. KB was not throwing a tantrum. He very rarely does. On the contrary he was pushing himself against kids who had fins. He didn't even ask to come out. I asked him if he wanted to come out if he was tired.

He was so unprepared for an hour of swimming after already having had a half hour class (none of the other kids had a swim class just before they came). On top of it he did not have fins on and the other kids were racing him. He was so exhausted from pushing himself to keep up with them. We sign waivers saying they are not responsible for anything going wrong at the pool. It is my responsibility as his mother to make sure he/I stop when he is exhausted. He did not say he won't go back...he prepared himself for the next class by practicing with the fins and now he tells me he is ready for it.

My point is that in certain situations, kids rights have to be respected. When they say they don't like something, it is worth looking into why. If you suspect it is just a tantrum, yes, continue on. If their resistance seems reasonable, teacher's word is not the final word. I guess it is my faith at that point that KB was reasonable and was not throwing a tantrum that made me decide the way I did. I feel in general children are not given their due respect and given space for their opinion. There is discipline and there is power struggle.

There are times when I feel so full, or on a hot day I am not able to eat much. If I were to put myself in their shoes and imagine someone forcing me to finish my plate of food no matter what, I would want to cry! I say absolute "no" to them in some situations - dangerous kind of play, any disrespectful way of talking etc...but there are situations like this when I feel like we absolutely have to think if the teacher is necessarily right. Since they are dependent on us to defend them, I feel it is imperative to pause and think from their pov.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you did simply because when V was very small I ignored his tears at swim class when they were asked to dunk their heads inside water to practice breathing. V at the time, was scared of being fully inside water as a result of poor bathing etiquette followed by my mother's maid when he was in India for a while with her(She was a little rough but kind otherwise). I listened to his coach and kept him at it but for a long time he protested and never forgave me for forcing him to stay there. Finally for a couple of years for other reasons we took a complete break from swimming and we restarted at the ripe age of 8 this year. And....ta da...no problems.

Kids like KB and V need you and me to pick up on their distress however mildly expressed and give them the option of sometimes opting out or taking it easy otherwise they drive themselves too hard. I think of it this way. I'd hate it if someone pushed me to stay in the water or run a mile if I wasn't quite upto it that day for some reason and I'd exercise my adult prerogative to get the hell out! So I should extend the same courtesy to V too, never mind that he's an 8 year old midget:-)
Deepa

noon said...

Exactly! For kids like KB and V - that is the key. If I didn't have KB and KG would have been blaming myself for everything. Now I know it is the child. KB was pushing himself so hard...he didn't want to feel like he can't do it. But the exertion was making him tear up and slow down even more. I would have hated to be in that situation for another thirty minutes. But KG on the other hand - she didnt' care if she was slower or faster than the others - she just enjoyed herself. She also is the youngest in that crowd - so she didn't feel any pressure.
So what's chess man V doing these days?! What pearls of wisdom is he giving you?! :)

Aryan-Arjun said...

Sometimes, even I get confused with what I do with Aryan. I think what you did with KB was right.

KB is already seven...cute boy he is...

Anonymous said...

dear noon- im a blog reader and ive commented on your site a couple of times before. i enjoy reading about kb and kg. this is one of those times i dont agree with you on your parenting...i hope you will try to see this point of view too. im a teacher, and mother to a 6 year old. in my class i often see kids comparing themselves to others, either when they are ahead, or behind. this i believe is a normal human reaction, and as a parent and teacher i believe its wisest to not shield the child. it doesnt matter if the other kids have fins. maybe even with fins kb would lag. thats not the point. the point is to allow him to go through with it and do his best. tell him its okay to not be as good as the others. each of us have our strong points, but we should step out of our comfort zone, and be comfortable not being as good. i do believe that life lesson is super important. kb seems like a wonderful child with a doting mother. its in our nature to be over protective, but sometimes one must let go.
best-
a well wisher.

noon said...

Hi Aryan-Arjun - man - I still can't believe even your second one is so grown up! I first read you when Aryan was a infant I think!

noon said...

Hello well wisher - thanks for your comment. I totally don't mind and in fact appreciate your opinion. I agree with you too. Life lessons are important. How ever I think if you met me/KB face to face at that point you might have agreed with me. I felt I put him at a disadvantage in many ways and sent him in...tired him out with a half hour class just before the team lesson...first time in the water for a whole hour...no fins, never exposed to shouting coaches...I don't like traumatizing the child. So I took him out and prepared him for it all by the next class. I didn't take him out of the swim team - just took him out earlier than the end time that day. But he has gone two more weeks (1/week) since then. I didn't let him quit but merely got him mentally and physically prepared for it.

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