I bet when your child was a toddler, you thought, “wow, that kid is fearless!” Like all babies, your child was born without fear. Young kids, when learning to crawl or walk, seem to get into everything and are willing to try anything. That’s how they learn.
But over time, children begin to lose their fearlessness and develop a fear of criticism and failure. Their natural curiosity to “try anything” often results in disapproval, punishment, and criticism (or ridicule).
By the time your child becomes school-age (or even earlier), he or she starts to think, “I’m not good enough.” The fear creeps in about being criticized, not fitting in, being teased, embarrassed, disappointment and failure. These feelings result in apprehension. That hesitancy translates into “playing it safe.” By not risking failure, embarrassment or criticism, your child chooses to be quiet, sits on the sidelines, and stays inside his or her comfort zone.
Your once fearless child may already be nervous about starting something new. Maybe that is one of the motivations for enrolling in a martial arts program? I know because increasing confidence to inspire self-motivation is one of the most common reasons that parents choose martial arts (along with gaining focus/concentration, fitness/athleticism, self-defense against bullying, or just plain having fun and making new friends).
Maybe you are troubled because you hear your child say things like:
“I don’t know how to…”
“I’m not as strong, fast, smart as…”
“I won’t know anyone.”
You know this is not a good sign because it will limit your child’s opportunities for growth and development in the future. Of course, this is a concern of yours because you want the best for your child!
Or maybe, you just feel that your child is “reserved,” but you are still concerned that by sitting on the sidelines, teachers and counselors will not give your child the attention that he or she deserves – which may ultimately lead to a life of mediocrity or worse…
What’s the Solution?
The good news is you’re not alone! There is a simple solution to teaching children to overcome their fears of learning, growing, and trying new things, and it is the foundation of a well thought out personal development program that progressive martial arts schools implement – called Life-Skills Training.
Your child just needs to re-learn (through positive reinforcement) that it’s okay to be a beginner. In martial arts, everyone starts out as a “White-Belt” (beginner), and through knowledge, practice, and dedication to hard work, becomes competent – many achieving the coveted “Black Belt.” The right martial arts school will teach your child the joy of learning – how to enthusiastically tackle something new, meet new people, learn how to learn, and even make a great first (and lasting) impression on others!
This positive experience that comes from starting as a new White-Belt, and successfully climbing the ranks (especially upon earning a Black-Belt), helps to form a lasting impression on your child and serves as a perfect metaphor for all future new beginnings as a life-long learner.
By internalizing this positive transformation of starting something new, learning how to meet new people, making a good impression on others, and realizing that it’s okay to be a beginner (because everyone is always a beginner at something) – your child will draw on this inner-strength and begin to overcome childhood fears and unnecessary hesitancies.
How is this done? Great martial arts schools that focus on child development have the perfect system to welcome new beginners. We expect children to be hesitant to join into our classes initially. Depending on your child’s personality and age, this may or may not be a concern of yours right now. But rest assured, even if your child is not hesitant to get involved today, the time will come when that (learned) fear of failure will become a barrier! The sooner these skills are acquired, the better. I know because, after teaching for more than 20 years, I have observed that these fears of failure (e.g. feeling foolish, not good enough, etc.) only become magnified for teenagers and adults.
The First Week of Classes
From the first day, your child will be whole-heartedly welcomed into the school. First, from the moment you enter you will be cheerfully greeted by an office manager, instructor, or assistant – a friendly face that your child and you will have likely already met. She will be the first to offer some words of encouragement to your child and to show him or her what to do and where to go. There is always a caring advocate nearby.
Second, you will notice most professional schools have multiple Black Belt instructors so that the newest students get extra attention to help them assimilate. Schools like ours have more advanced students assist in the class as part of our leadership development program called the “SWAT” team (Special Winning Attitude Team). So, there are a lot of friendly faces to help your child feel welcome and to get off to a successful start.
Every child in martial arts wears a workout uniform. This way your child will automatically fit in and be part of a “team.” There is also a “Belt-Rank” system that designates each student’s level of experience by the color of the belt worn with their uniform. The color-belts range from White Belt to Black Belt with a variety of colors and belt stripes/tips in between (depending on the school).
White, Yellow, Green, Purple, Blue, Red, Brown, Red/Black, Brown/Black & Black Belt
In our program, for example, the uniform for your child’s very first class is the martial arts pants and jacket (or optional school T-shirt instead of the jacket) and no belt is worn initially. The White Belt is awarded to your child at the 5th Class. There are two reasons for this. First, everyone (including your child) knows that students without a belt are new beginners, and there are no expectations that they know any martial arts skills yet. That way, we minimize the awkward feeling your child may have about being a beginner!
The second reason for awarding your child the White Belt on the 5th class is to begin establishing the concept of cause and effect. Your child will begin to see the benefits of setting and achieving goals – the foundation of building self-confidence and creating a life-long habit of achievement (something that I will cover in chapter two).
We will quickly teach your child how to assimilate into our program so that there is a comfort level and feeling of belonging. We have a specific way of entering the class, lining up, and beginning and ending the training session. These routines are quickly learned, helping children rapidly feel like “experts” during these portions of the class.
Your child will be introduced to a world where respect is given and received (we teach children how to properly show respect – which is expected of everyone). By learning how to show respect toward others, your child will see and feel a reflection of respect back – just like looking in a magical mirror. This experience of learning and applying how to show and receive respect helps alleviate the fear of failure. This reduces the fear of trying something new in the future. Learning to give and receive respect creates a positive emotional experience and will foster an inner confidence that your child will be able to draw from in future situations.
Your child will also learn to stand and sit-up straight, respond by saying, “yes, sir/no, sir!” or “yes, ma’am/no, ma’am!” We ask that children reply in full sentences and make eye contact when speaking – to be polite and project poise and sincerity. In turn, we will model that exact behavior back to them.
These are the kinds of experiences your child should expect at the most professional martial arts schools in the country with the finest youth programs in the industry.
The School Motto and Philosophy
Top schools will have a vision, mission, and some type of student motto or creed – especially for children. This is a constant reminder that they are building character and values as well as muscles and athletic skills.
At the beginning of each of our classes for example, the instructors lead the students in reciting our:
“5 Tenets of Tae Kwon Do:”
Your child will not only memorize the words, he or she will understand their meaning and importance. It is a joy to behold! At the end of each class, your child will recite our:
“3 Student Creeds”
…To build True Self-Confidence (through):
1.Knowledge in the Mind
2.Honesty in the Heart
3.Strength in the Body
These foundational tenets and creeds, as well as our uniforms, belt-ranking system, familiar routines, supportive staff, and culture of respect and excellence all work to create a positive feeling about trying something new. We want your child to experience the joy of learning! Overcoming fear and apprehension to strive for success and push oneself to become better through personal development is one of the keys to a future of happiness, fulfillment and growth.
Start your child on the journey from fear to courage today. Click/tap on our kids program tab today for more information - or call 313.928.5288.
Find out about our award winning Children's Classes here
Master Kevin Hurlahe is President of Martial Arts Centers, Inc and the Head Master Instructor of Allen Park Martial Arts Center.