We had a momentous occasion in our household last week. Our 11 year old child left to attend sleep away camp for a week. It was the longest I had ever been apart from my first born and it was painfully hard (for me of course, not for him). I was just barely getting use to him being gone for weekend campouts and regular sleepovers at his buddies’ houses. But he had been preparing for this camp trip for months. It was his Boy Scout camp week and he was thinking about all of the classes he wanted to take to earn certain merit badges. As the campout approached he shared with me that he would be taking a swim test at the campsite’s lake and going through a battery of swim activities he needed to pass in order to earn a merit badge for it. I thought, I wonder what he is going to have to do? So I asked him to share the requirements with me. After reviewing the achievements I grew somewhat uneasy. After reading the number of laps he’d have to do, how long he’d have to tread in the water and the other rather treacherous tasks, I wondered how he would do.
I have always felt safe with him in the water, he had swimming lessons as a young boy and he loved being in the pool. But, he had yet to learn proper strokes. So I felt that he was an ok swimmer but definitely not a strong swimmer. So I told him when he gets to camp, “Just do your best and if you are not able to pass everything on your first try, just keep trying and have fun.”
When I picked him up from camp at the end of the week, I couldn’t help but notice that he looked like a young man (and super dirty). As he was telling me about his activities and the merit badges he earned he began to tell me about the swimming achievements. He told me that how on the first day; they got into the freezing lake water and tried his luck at the basic swim test. He told me he failed it. He could barely complete two laps. I said, “That’s ok. You can always try it again.” Then he proceeded to tell me that he did and was able to pass all of the requirements by the end of the week. Before he could tell me more, we were interrupted by a few of the adult leaders who wanted to tell me just how proud they were of my son during the week. I asked them why. They said that he really struggled in the beginning of the week with the swim requirements as did a few other boys. But then they told me that each day after that; during much of their free time; my son would ask the leaders if he could be supervised in the lake to practice so he could try the swim tests again. When one adult leader said he couldn’t supervise him at that time, he would ask another adult leader to supervise him. So each day, he managed to get his practice in and even pass a few of his swim requirements along the way. Towards the end of the week, he had to finish one last big requirement to earn his swim merit badge: to complete at least 8 laps across the length of the lake area nonstop. As he prepared for that, he practiced like he normally did but this time some of his scout buddies joined him to work with him and give him that support he needed.
When I gave him a hug as I arrived to pick him up, remember how I said that he looked like a young man? He looked so happy and was standing so tall. So as the adult leaders finished telling me the story of his swimming work during the week with my arm around my boy, the leader said, “He passed all of the swim achievements. He really earned it.” I turned to my son as I heard this and he said with a huge smile, “I didn’t give up. Just like you taught me.”
A grit attitude isn’t always about working to get the best grades in school. It’s about finding something you want to accomplish, striving to accomplish it and usually experiencing setbacks along the way. Whether it’s earning a scout merit badge or getting to the county finals for the spelling bee, grit moms must celebrate what matters to our children and celebrate their hard earned accomplishments when they achieve them.
Finally, I didn’t want to make this blog just about my proud and braggy Grit Mom moment. I wanted to also end with some great information about how important it is make sure your children know how to swim. It is essential not only as a tool to teach grit but also for health and safety reasons (during the summer especially).
Swimming produces a wide array of health and social benefits for kids of all ages. It provides children with a fun aquatic activity that also promotes good health and social development skills. It’s an aerobic form of exercise that also produces advantages for kids with disabilities. But as with any athletic activity, some risks do arise, especially with young children. Preventative measures help reduce these risks and allow swimming to be a safe, fun activity.
- Swimming provides a good source of exercise with minimal chances of bodily injuries common in other kids’ sports. Swimming offers a good source of aerobic exercise without placing added stress or impact on growing bones and joints. According to KidsFitnessCentral.com, swimming promotes good health, increases endurance and develops stamina. The long-term benefits of swimming, according to New-Fitness.com, include improving the cardiovascular system by allowing the heart to work less strenuously through more efficient ways using the body’s oxygen.
- Swimming helps children socially develop as they interact with kids their own age.
In addition to the health benefits, swimming also taps into the social development of kids. Children swimming competitively or participating in swim clubs learn the importance of perseverance, sportsmanship, self-discipline and goal-setting. They develop relationships with teammates and learn the importance of responsibility and teamwork. In addition, it allows kids to socialize with their peers.
Children with Disabilities
- Many children with a variety of disabilities benefit from swimming. It’s a non-contact sport that requires no equipment and helps children with disabilities exercise their muscles. Swimming in particular can be extremely beneficial for kids with cerebral palsy. According to CerebralPalsySource.com, swim therapy provides relief from muscle stiffness, enhances muscle relaxation and builds muscle strength. In addition, swimming also helps kids with disabilities develop coordination, as it requires movement from just about every muscle in the body.
- Parent and child swimming classes help create a stronger bond among family.
Taking swimming classes becomes one of the best ways for kids to learn how to swim. In addition, it also helps kids socialize with children their age. Learn-to-swim national organizations provide ample opportunities for kids of all ages to take lessons. For example, the American Red Cross presents authorized providers certified to teach parent and child aquatics or “Learn to Swim for All Ages,” a program catering to children five and under. In addition, according to USASwimming.org, YMCA facilities across the nation operate about 2,600 pools and offer lessons year-round. The YMCA offers youth progressive, infant-parent and preschool swimming classes.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is ranked as the second leading cause of unintentional deaths in kids ages 1 to 14. Parents and other adults caring for children must take precautionary measures. Never leave children unattended in a pool regardless of their swimming abilities, as drowning can happen quickly and adults may not hear a child’s cries for help. If boating, fishing or rafting on lakes or rivers, make sure kids always wear a life jacket. Construct a four-sided isolation fence around home pools to prevent preschoolers and toddlers from entering an unsupervised pool area.
- Children should always use the buddy system when swimming.
Although swimming offers great health benefits, parents and children should be aware of the dangers as well. The CDC states that if kids swim in contaminated water found in public swimming pools, lakes, rivers or oceans, they can be exposed to recreational water illness (RWI). The most common systems of RWI include diarrhea, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. RWI spreads by swallowing, breathing or coming into contact with contaminated water. According to the CDC, prevention includes swimming in clean, clear water, avoiding swallowing pool water, taking children on bathroom breaks often and refraining from swimming when you have diarrhea.