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When A Person is Drowning is Not the Time to Teach Him to Swim

That’s my favorite quote out of Between Parent and Teenager, by Haim Ginott (which really ought to be called “Between Person and Person” because its timeless wisdom is perfectly applicable to ALL human relationships).

It’s been a tense week in my little world, because senior synthesis papers (term papers) are due tomorrow. Synthesis papers are huge and complex and daunting, and they’re required for graduation. Predictably, some kids procrastinated and are now doing frantic, last-minute jobs. And I, as a tutor, have been helping them as best I can.

The tension is high in many households at the moment. Parents are disappointed, frustrated, irate with their kids….and some are saying so, openly and loudly.

I completely understand these parents’ feelings, but I also ask them to please adjust their timing and save their lectures for a later date.

It’s hard enough for these kids right now, without them also having to deal with the bitterness and despair and added tension and generally distracting and disheartening effects of their parents’ ire.

Believe me,

  • Your child knows he should have started sooner and planned better
  • She knows she should have asked for help earlier
  • He knows he could have had an A if he had done a better job
  • She knows she shouldn’t work this way in college
  • They know they screwed up

When a person is drowning, his immediate need is to be rescued.

And when a person makes a mistake, what she needs first and foremost is help to get out of the fix she’s in.

The swimming lessons come later. And my last-minute paper-writers absolutely need to have those critical conversations about planning, goal-setting, not procrastinating…but NOT NOW.

For now we’re hunkering down and getting those papers written. And hopefully what I’m teaching my students are some lessons in compassion and tolerance for human foibles.

photo of the beach at LisSurMer on New Years Eve

When A Person is Drowning is Not the Time to Teach Him to Swim

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2011). When A Person is Drowning is Not the Time to Teach Him to Swim. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jul 2011
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