Q: My 3 year old daughter recently started preschool and swimming lessons and the first days went well. However, since day two, she started crying prior to and during her swim classes and "protests" before entering the doors at school. Now she constantly says, "I don't want to go to school" and "I don't want to go to swimming." How do I respond to this in a manner that doesn't discourage her yet still acknowledges her apprehension?

A: Little ones are both resilient and tender -- with some tots more brave than others, by nature.  You can't talk a preschooler into doing something that scares her -- all you can offer is reassurance (and patience). So if your child is resistant, don't push. Support their efforts at being strong, and strengths will develop with age and experience.

Preschool refusal is tricky if it's not really optional for her. Usually, a few weeks' adjustment time -- with the help of the teacher -- is all that's necessary. Offer lots of reassurance and support along the way, remind her of the fun times she has at school, and be matter-of-fact about her attendance. If her resistance lasts more than 3 or 4 weeks, get to the bottom of the problem by booking an adults-only meeting with the teacher and administrator. Sometimes, a new morning routine, teacher, classroom, or school can be the solution. For other kiddos, a few more months at home might be the answer.

Learning to swim is an important skill and doing it right is worth the effort. Forcing the matter will make it worse and could cause a delay. Her motor skills aren't well-developed enough to truly swim until she's closer to 5 anyway, so this is just an introductory phase.  Tell her, "Our family loves to swim, so when you're ready to learn, you can try, too. Until then, we'll sit on the steps and splash and play." Allow her to have fun with toys and friends, with you within arms' reach, so she feels safe. Follow her lead and make her experiences in the water fun.  She won't be behind her peers if you take the pressure off.  When she's more comfortable in the water -- and with the swim teacher -- she'll turn into a happy fish!

Answered by Dr. Heather Wittenberg



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