Child's toes at edge of swimming pool diving board ladder

One day this summer, I was lounging at the club pool situated directly across from the diving board. I watched a little boy about 9 climb the steps and move toward the edge of the board. He moved from the safety of the handrails to the narrow surface of the board with deep water below him. I could tell that this was an important journey for him because just past the rail, he changed to tiny, shuffling steps for about a foot before he turned around and went back.

When he got to the stairs, he called out, “Dad! Dad!”. He tried again to get his dad’s attention and his dad eventually turned to him. The boy said, “Dad, will you catch me?”

His dad was a bit distracted talking to friends. Dad said, “No. You can do it son,” then walked closer to the pool and watched as the boy tried again.

The boy stepped away from the ladder and made his way toward the edge of the board with both hands on the rails. The handrail ended and the boy moved s-l-o-w-l-y inching to the edge of the diving board.

This time he leapt!

Watching this scene was delightful and fascinating. He did it! A big win! I could see his smile before his head broke through the surface of the water.

Dad congratulated the boy and told him, “Good job.” The boy didn’t seem to hear what his dad was saying. His head was in and out of the water as he swam to the side of the pool. The boy beamed as he climbed out.

I was glad that the boy hadn’t heard his dad.

Not that I’m against encouraging and praising our kids. Kids definitely need positive reinforcement from the adults in their lives.

I wanted to shout, “Ask him what he’s thinking! Ask him how he feels!”

We need to teach kids thought-awareness and how to think on purpose. Teaching kids to be aware of their thinking and to create thoughts that support their path in a positive way is a great way to build self-confidence and resilience. Kids can encourage themselves by creating their own positive self-talk (adults can, too!). Here’s part of the process I use with my own son and with my young clients. Do this with your own kids.

First ask:

“What do you think?”

I do this whenever a child has a success and also when something hasn’t gone the way they expected.

Try to ask your kids what THEY think as much as possible. A powerful way to teach thought awareness is by helping kids consider their own thinking about life and the experiences they have in it.

When the kids I work with have an experience that doesn’t go their way, I listen a bit longer and pause before I dive in with questions or support. I give him time to find his thoughts.

Listening longer, with intention and pausing before we speak, is a great practice to use with anyone in your life.

By giving kids time to think and then share their thoughts, you are allowing them to “download” the thoughts from their mind. If the child downloads a thought that seems painful to me personally, I ask him how that particular thought feels. If he says that the thought makes him feel bad or sad or angry, I suggest that the child stay with the feeling until it passes. Then I ask if he wants to continue thinking that thought or to choose a new feel-better thought. I offer to help find a new thought after he tries to come up with one on his own. The new thought must always be something that makes sense to the child and that the child believes.

Fake happy or pie-in-the-sky thoughts won’t do the job.

Do you recognize this process? I think many parents already do this sort of thing with their kids. The important parts are to listen, listen with intention and no agenda, and then continue LISTENING. Kids are amazing at finding feel-better thoughts. Assist your child with finding a new feel-better thought only if they’re stuck and are having trouble finding one on their own.

Asking a child what they think, how they feel, and listening are great tools when your kids have a win like the boy at the pool or anytime in your child’s life.

The little guy at the pool was a champion at thinking feel-good thoughts. He headed toward his mom with a huge grin to tell her the good news. “Mom, I did it! I jumped off the diving board!”

Next, he ran around to his friends telling them about his success. He invited them to go on the diving board exclaiming, “It’s easy!”

His parents smiled. I think that was all the encouragement he needed.

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About The Author

Katie McClain SEP's picture

Katie McClain, SEP is a Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner, author, and certified life coach. She’s been coaching for 25+ years and uses Somatic Experiencing®, a gentle body-mind method, to support her adult and child clients in releasing stress, growing self-compassion, and restoring goodness to their lives. Katie’s book, How to Tame Your Thought Monster, is available in multiple formats (English, Spanish, coloring book, and app) and presents mindfulness and positive thinking tools for adults and kids so they can feel better and do better. Visit Katie at her website, www.katiemcclain.com, follow her on Facebook  and Instagram.

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