Care and Feeding

No More Floaties

I want my daughter swimming as soon as possible. How do I get her to like the water?

Collage of a child afraid of swimming.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SeventyFour/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 6-year-old is about to start swim lessons again. She’s been in them before, and she hates them with every fiber of her tiny being. But it’s not negotiable. She has to learn how to swim! Luckily, she’s close (hundreds of dollars spent on past swim lessons have helped her make very, very, very, very slow progress). She’s in private lessons, which seem to work better for her. Any tips on how to get through this with minimum tears and motivate her to get in the pool?

She has two big brothers who can swim competently and like to swim, but not enough to join the swim team at our community pool. My husband didn’t learn to swim until he was an adult (and now he’s a strong swimmer and plays with the kids in the pool all the time). We want to avoid that for her.

—Marco! Polo!

Dear MP,

My father also learned to swim as an adult, following a potentially disastrous incident in which my unwitting mother playfully pushed him into the deep end of the pool on their honeymoon and he had to be saved by a lifeguard. They are now divorced, but I wouldn’t read too much into that.

Here’s the deal: There are a lot of different opinions on when to start kids swimming. The American Association for Pediatrics suggests that formal lessons not begin until kids are 4 and have the ability to meaningfully control their breath. They also point out that people who have kids in the infant and young toddler classes aren’t doing anything wrong, but everyone involved can get overly cocky about their child’s safety around water as a result.

There are a lot of kids for whom 6 and 7 are much better ages to begin getting serious about swimming lessons, and from the sound of it, your kid is one of them. Start digging out kids’ movies that make spending time in the water look like fun. Moana did wonders in my home to jump-start interest in the process, The Little Mermaid is still a banger, etc. I think she’ll do a lot better this time around just due to maturity. Try an instructor who is a different kind of personality than her last (some kids want JOVIAL, some kids want CALM AND SOOTHING).

I do want you to slow your roll a bit with expectations. Learning to swim is first and foremost an issue of safety. You talk about your sons who are “competent” and enjoy the water but aren’t swim-team material with an air of disappointment. Ditto your husband who, for someone who learned as an adult and is now splashing around merrily, seems to be a real success story for me.

Let’s just get her doggy-paddling and treading water with confidence so that, worst-case scenario, when her future spouse chucks her in the pool on their honeymoon, no one has to intervene.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have two great kids who are 4 and almost 1. I think having a sibling bond is important and want my kids to like each other and grow to become playmates. My siblings and I did not get along well as children, and we never really became friends as adults. Our home life as kids was very tumultuous, and my siblings had issues that made socializing difficult.

So far, my kids play fairly well together despite the age gap. Of course, my older one occasionally gets frustrated when the baby breaks block towers, tries to destroy Legos, or spits up on precious stuffed dinosaurs.

Is there a magic formula for ensuring your kids become friends and playmates as they grow? How do I lay the groundwork for future success? We owe much of our parenting successes so far to Daniel Tiger and his songs for all occasions, but so far he has left us stranded on this one.

—They Don’t Need to Be Ross and Monica

Dear TDNtBRaM,

I really wish I could give you THE answer. Regrettably, thousands of years of human knowledge on this point has served up only this: It’s a dang crapshoot. You have created two unique humans and sent them spinning off like tops into a very complex world. They may fight like cats and dogs as kids and become thick as thieves as adults, or they may be little buddies as kids and maintain (at best) a cool civility when forced to interact at weddings and funerals in later life.

Here’s what I do have:

• Try to treat them equitably (“equally” is a pipe dream, and life will take it from you soon enough).
• Try not to show favoritism (and don’t let your relatives show it either, it matters more than you think).
• Try to generally model treating other people with respect and kindness.
• Let them band together against you, sometimes, when the stakes are low.

I’m sorry, that’s all we’ve got. Right now, they’re doing great for almost 1 and 4.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our first child is 2 and a half and struggling with sleeping (again). When he was in the crib we got to the point where he would sleep through the night, but when we pulled one side off the bed he had issues making it to morning.

A month or so back, we got a sleep clock with a face that goes to sleep at night and then tells him it is OK to get up. This was a wonderful invention, and it seemed to solve the problem! He loved to see the clock “go to sleep” and was very proud of himself when he made it to morning.

This week he has a bit of a cough, and that has him waking up in the middle of the night. Not only can he not settle himself; if we go in, he spirals and cries—refusing to lay back down in his bed. We either have to hold him for hours, or (for the first time in his life) he wants to sleep with us in our bed. Putting him in bed with us is an acceptable solution for now, but we don’t like the idea of him getting into bed with us every night for years.

He’s sick and clingy right now so maybe this will change, but are we carving grooves that will have him demanding to sleep with us every night? I don’t see a lot of other options right now, but I guess we could get a twin bed for one of us to sleep in the kid’s room.

—Sleep Monster

Dear Sleep Monster,

He’s sick. He feels weird. Don’t borrow trouble: If he’s still doing this when he’s well, tell him his clock is ready to go back to work and says he’s healthy enough to stay in his own bed.

Cuddle up for a few more days. It’ll pass.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My sister-in-law has always been a hovering parent, and never lets her kids have a conversation without her knowing what’s going on. She’s a stay-at-home mom, and my brother doesn’t have much say about what happens in the children’s lives.

My sister offered to take their eldest (9 years old) to come visit me a few states away. SIL said, “I don’t want him to experience things without me.” It’s her choice, but I’m so mad because I have to travel to visit family several times a year and wasn’t planning to this summer. This is one opportunity I could have seen my nephew. When I ask them to visit, I get “there’s more people here for you to see.” It’s hurtful, and this new response is more painful than I expected. Can I convey this anger to my brother and SIL? If so, how?

—Shut Out

Dear SO,

Your SIL does not sound like your favorite person, and she does seem clingy. That being said, it is a totally normal parenting decision to not have your sister-in-law take your 9-year-old “a few states away” to visit a third relative.

This just isn’t your business. Work on building that relationship when you’re there, and work on creating fun care packages and postcards to keep it fresh in their minds when you’re not. Your anger is real, but it is not justified, I’m afraid—at least not to the point of being something you can bring up with your brother and his wife. Tell your brother you want to be more involved with the kids, sure! But this incident? There’s no story here.