A month ago, Jia took part in a swimming competition. That was a first for her (joining a competition) and for me as a mom. Jia goes to a Montessori school and they don’t have grades, quiz bees, tests, and homeworks. They do not even have books and notebooks. So the concept of a competition was known to Jia only through her books. When Jia told me that her Coach was inviting her to join a competition, I very subtly encouraged her because I wanted her to experience the discipline of being in sports. I did not expect to learn so much as a positive parenting mom from that experience. Ang dami kong natutunan, feeling ko I grew so much as a parent. So am blogging the things I learned here.
But first things first, I have to just say that I do not believe in pressuring children unduly. They will get much more pressure than they would ever need as adults so I do not see any sense in pressuring them now. Oh, but just in case you are wondering, I am also definitely not a coddling parent.
Go with child-led activities
I think every parent faces the very difficult task of finding the balance between pushing (like a tiger mom) and being chill (like an elephant mom). What I have learned though is it’s always better when activities are child-led and child-decided, or at least, perceived as child-decided.
Learning how to swim was a non-negotiable for us. Aside from swimming being an important life skill, all our kids have asthma so we really want them to learn how to swim. Two summers ago, I kept on asking Jia if she wanted to take swimming classes. She said no and so it was just Joya who took lessons. She eventually decided to take lessons (nakulitan na yata sa akin) but the whole cycle flew by and she did not even learn how to do freestyle.
Since then, whenever I brought up swimming classes, she would say no until, because of positive parenting, I just stopped bringing it up. Then last February, while we were in Potipot Island in Zambales, Jia said that she loved the water so much, she might as well learn how to swim. Hallelujah! Because it was her decision to take lessons, she took it seriously.
Before we enrolled in a cycle (a cycle is composed of 12 days / 2 weeks), I talked to her (and Joya, who was also taking the class) about how it would be. Since the class was everyday and it would take a toll on their bodies, they needed to be extra conscious about their diet. I also stressed to them the importance of sleeping early because their swimming class was in the morning.
Ang galing nung effect nung conversation namin. Because I explained everything that was expected of them, we did not have a single problem. Because THEY decided to take the class, they meticulously followed our agreement (be more conscious about sleep and diet) and even though I knew there were times that they did not want to go to class, they still did.
Before that first cycle ended, I asked them if they wanted to enroll in the next cycle. I explained their options and what was expected of them should they continue with the classes. They both said no. I did not push them. I knew the classes were tiring. They decided instead to rest for two weeks and then enroll in the cycle after that. I was so proud of them; they were deciding for themselves and in positive parenting, this is super important.
Strike a deal! (And prepare to live up to your end of the bargain.)
Three days into their second cycle, Jia came home one day saying that she did not have a good day because she was being transferred to a male coach the next day. Honestly, I was also not comfortable with the idea so I told her that we would talk to the Head Coach so she would not have to transfer. At mali ako dun, maling mali. I should have investigated and asked first (This is a cardinal rule in positive parenting.) and not be the typical enabler parent.
The next day, when we arrived, the Head Coach informed me that Jia was indeed being transferred to a male coach. Coach Roel (the Head Coach) explained that Jia was actually being promoted to the advanced group. Jia, however, vehemently refused to transfer. She probably even felt I betrayed her because I told her that she did not have to transfer. So while the clock was ticking (read as: yung oras namin sa swimming class ay nauubos), Jia and I talked. She was crying and I have to admit nase-stress ako na yung oras umaandar (sayang pera!). We probably talked for more than 15 minutes but I knew that she needed to do it on her own accord, so I consciously ignored the time. I knew that ordering her to get into the water will NOT work at all!
She was saying that she did not want to attend swimming classes anymore. I reminded her, in a kind and firm voice, that we already paid for the whole cycle and to not attend would be wasting money. By that time, I could see the Head Coach signalling to me that she could just stay with her current coach. It was the easy way out but I knew that I needed to convince Jia to go to the advanced class.
In the end, I struck a deal with her — she would try one class and if she did not like it, she was free to go back to her old coach . I did not have to cajole nor order her. It was a deal we both decided to go into. Thankfully, after the class, she told me she wanted to stay in the advanced lane. Had she decided to stay in her current class, I would have had no choice but to fulfill my end of the bargain.
Be your child’s advocate… ALWAYS!
When Jia decided to try the advanced class, I explained to the Head Coach how uncomfortable Jia felt. I think it made all the difference because the Head Coach (with whom Jia was very comfortable with although he’s a male) watched out for her. I think the fact that I did not discount Jia’s feelings worked out really well. She felt validated.
Interestingly, Joya was also being asked to transfer to another coach during that time and he also did not want to. In his case, I knew his reason was because the new prospective coach had a tendency to raise his voice. Now, at our home, we do not condone shouting. In fact, one of Joya’s “favorite” issues to raise during our family meetings is shouting. He abhors shouting and absolutely hates being yelled at. (Well… who does?) The coach he was being transferred to would shout at his students. Some people might think that what I did was meddling but I would not want anyone to shout at my son (but I am sure you know how, in sports training, shouting at kids is just so common, it’s not a big deal anymore). So I talked to the Head Coach and said that I was aware that the new coach had the tendency to raise his voice but Joya would not like that. It worked! Joya was given to a soft-spoken coach instead. The transition was so easy!
Validate feelings (A very important positive parenting tool!)
I was very busy the week before the competition and was frequently out of the house. Exactly one week before, a Saturday, I got home at 10:00 p.m. and Jia was still awake. She said that she waited up for me because she needed to talk. When I lay down beside her, she confided how tired she was and how pressured she felt. She was crying and my heart was breaking. I could imagine how physically and mentally exhausting their training was. I could not even do two laps in their pool and she, my seven year old daughter who did not even like attending her PE class, was doing laps after laps. She was a little above one meter in height and was swimming possibly half a kilometer every training session.
I listened to her. At one point, she was trying to blame me for joining. She said that she knew I wanted her to join. I pointed out to her, very kindly, that although I wanted her to experience the discipline of being in sports, it was her decision and something she committed to. I did not tell her that others have it worse (something I might have done if I were not a positive parent). I did not point out to her that other kids are more tired because they have to work. I did not cite other kid athletes. I did not tell her that she is blessed. I just listened and validated that what she was doing was indeed tiring.
Because I felt how exhausted she was, I started to doubt the wisdom of letting her join. I did not realize the toll it would take on her. I talked to my husband and told him I would have Jia take the next training days off. He agreed. The following day, our whole rested and just bonded at home.
The next day, Monday, I told Jia she could skip training but to my surprise, she refused. I realized that she was merely letting out steam and exhaustion. There I was, panicking, and I did not realize that what my daughter needed was just validation. She felt that she was listened to and that was enough.
Expect more from your kids
You know the expression “With high hopes but low expectations”? Well, I went to the competition with low hopes and low expectations. Jia’s classmates have been training much longer than she had. A few have trained for more than a year. Jia trained for a few weeks. I thought I was doing her a favor by not expecting her to win. After all, I felt like I already won since Jia was already benefitting from being in the sport. On hindsight, it was the worst thing that I did.
Because I did not expect her to win and I was just after the experience, I did not even clarify the mechanics. It was our first time in a swim meet and had NO idea what was happening. Jia was included in eight events. This is embarassing but I did not even know that she was just competing with other 7 year old girls; I thought she was competing with all girls 11 years old and below. The way I encouraged her seemed insincere.
In her heat, she would come out second or third and she was starting to lose hope. It was only after the sixth event that I talked to the Coach. He assured me that Jia was doing really well and was way exceeding his expectations. I was surprised! He explained to me how the whole thing goes. When I explained to Jia, she felt super motivated! When she felt better, she did better!
Jia got a Bronze in the 25 meter Freestyle event. This was the event after we talked. When I expected more from her, she felt it and also expected more from herself. Ang galing! Positive parenting for the win!
I encouraged Jia to join the competition to learn from the experience. I ended up getting more from this experience than Jia did.