Monday, August 03, 2009
Diving Boards and Moose Tracks
Years ago my youngest child, Beckie, had mixed feelings about jumping off the diving board at the local community pool. She had been through a few rounds of swim lessons by then and could swim and tread water. She watched others jump and splash and could tell they were having fun. She decided she wanted to try it, and I agreed to let her try a jump off the lower diving board. She confidently climbed up the ladder, then slowed as she approached the end and came to a stop. Suddenly, her confidence was gone and she stood there trembling with indecision. I was standing nearby on the edge of the pool, ready to jump in and rescue her if necessary. (I am not much of a swimmer, but I would have dog-paddled to her and tugged her out!) Beckie looked at me, looked at the water, looked behind her at the line of kids waiting their turn, and reversed course back down the ladder. She got her courage up and repeated the scenario a few more times, each time getting angrier with herself for not taking the plunge. I did my usual Mom pep talk things, like pointing out that she could already jump and knew how to swim and that after the first time it would get easier. Knowing Beckie, I knew if she didn't go for it during this visit she would talk herself out of trying again for a long time. She knew she could do it, I knew she could do it, but she just couldn't make herself jump. At that point I decided verbal encouragement and logic weren't cutting it and I tried an incentive. This reward may sound like a bribe, but I assure you it was really an incentive! I told Beckie that if she jumped off the diving board she could have a scoop of her favorite ice cream, Moose Tracks, when we got home. The promise of ice cream was greater than her fear of the unknown sensation of jumping off the diving board and she immediately got back in line for a turn. When she got to the end of the board, she hesitated and reminded herself of the Moose Tracks that awaited her successful jump. Then BOING off she went! She came up grinning and swam to the side of the pool, climbed out and got right back in line for another turn to jump. After her third jump, the life guards blew the whistle for rest time so she had just gotten her jumps in on time. She came over to me and as I wrapped her in a towel and hugged her proudly against me she informed me that she had earned three scoops of Moose Tracks. Apparently she thought each jump earned a scoop, and was keeping a mental count as she envisioned the ice cream piling up. Good thing the rest period started when it did! I informed Beckie that the Moose Track reward was a one time incentive for learning to jump off the diving board. But I did give her three scoops that night because I know the courage it took and in my opinion, she earned it. It was also another good reminder for me that I needed to be very specific in my communication, and that sometimes kids need a little more from us than our words of love and assurance.