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The $120.00 Swim Lesson
By Judy Arnall

Should you push children to go to lessons they hate or let them drop them?

Should you push children to go to lessons they hate or let them drop them?
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This was the summer my son was going to learn how to swim! He was seven years old and old enough to agree to the lessons when I asked him in March. I signed him up and paid the $120.00. Come summer, he was feeling more anxious about it and resisted going the first day. Once again, I’m faced with the age-old parenting question: “Should I make him go, or let him stay home?”

As parents, we want to provide our children with a taste of the many wonderful experiences that life can offer. We flip through pages of booklets of the many offerings of classes and day camps and envision our child loving the sports, art, music, science lessons, camps, and activities. We take time to sign them up, write a check, arrange transportation, and prepare them for the first day. The first day arrives and they don’t want to go. What to do now? Should we drag them to the activity or give in and let them miss it?

That depends on your child and your goals for the activity. Does your child usually complain until they get there and then love it? Or does your child complain loudly the whole time they are there and all the way home? Did you sign up your child to acquire skills, socialize a bit more, or for a little down time for you?

I would suggest the “Nudge, but don’t Force” approach. Encourage them to go the first day and try it out. One day, that’s it. This is giving the child informed consent. They need to experience what they are going to make a decision about and if they go the first day and hate it, then let them drop the activity. Most venues will give you the majority of your fees back if you drop it immediately after the first day. If they love it, then they will be glad you nudged them. Like getting kids to try new foods, one bite is enough to know if it will work for them or not at that time. If you can’t get a refund, don’t worry about wasting the money. It’s better to build trust with your child, in that they will try new things if you don’t force them to attend the whole way through in the name of “committing to the agenda.”

Many adults get second chances and can drop out of things they don’t like. As children get older, you can teach the importance of commitment with chores and friends, rather than with activities. If you force them to attend the activity the whole course, you risk teaching them to hate the very activity you were hoping they would love. If it’s skills, socialization, or time to yourself that is the goal, is there another way to achieve it? Is it the right time to work on that now?

If you have a quiet, shy, or anxious child, promise to stay with them and leave in baby steps as per their comfort level. Again, building trust is important. Ignore complaints from staff that will recite their “No Parents Allowed” policy. You know your child best and need to act in their best interests.

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Research supports a gradual leaving of your child and building trust in your relationship that you will fulfill your promises of staying until they no longer need you. Child program professionals should understand the importance of your child’s comfort level and it should supersede any perceived concerns that “it will show favoritism to one child” if their parent is allowed to stay. If the venue or staff will not let you stay, consider a more parent-friendly program or venue and also consider if your child is really ready. Sometimes a few months or weeks of further emotional or social development is all your child needs to push their independence further.

In the end, my son didn’t go back after the first day of swimming lessons. However, he knows that if he tries something new, he has the power to trust his instincts about whether the choice is right for him or not...and have those instincts respected by his parents. That is worth more than $120.00.

Judy Arnall is a professional parenting speaker and trainer, mom of five children, and author of the book “Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery” and the DVD “Plugged-In Parenting: Connecting with the digital generation for health, safety and love” as well as the book “The Last Word on Parenting Advice.” She also teaches parenting at The University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services, and is an advice expert for various media outlets. Visit her website

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