Every martial arts term starts with a ritual. Some kids are chomping at the bit to get into the class and learn the reverse somersaulting flying ninja kick that they saw on TV. Others, you cannot bribe them with enough sweets to join the class. Why? Kids are as varied as colours of the rainbow. Some are outgoing, others are shy or are petrified of getting hurt. There is no “normal or abnormal” with respect to this.
How do you get your child to overcome their fears and engage in their first martial arts class? Here are some of the things that have been successful in our martial arts classes for children.
Let the child express what is causing the fear.
Sometimes just talking about it eases the child’s fear. Words often take some of the power out of negative thoughts.
Do not ridicule the fear as a way of forcing your child to overcome it.
Saying “Don’t be silly! Karate is super easy!” may get your child into the class, but it won’t make the fear go away.
Start with little steps.
Don’t push them into the class. Let them work their way into it slowly. While I am going around the class letting the kids use their blocks against the padded blockers (a very fun activity that gets the kids laughing), I stop in front of the shy child, smile, and lower the blocker slowly toward them so they can get it easily. I make it a point to praise them if they have a go at it, whether or not they do it correctly. This often works.
Make it an adventure you and your child can share.
Stand out there with them and do the warm-ups or other activities with them. They will feed off your enthusiasm and will feel less alone.
Allow yourself to be the “home base”.
Using you as “home base,” the child can venture out toward the martial arts class, and then return to you for safety before venturing out again. This allows the child a sense of control, but also reassures them that you are there for them.
Let the younger black belts talk them into it.
Often kids are intimidated by “the Sensei”, but if you send a younger assistant over to talk them into it, they can relate to someone closer to their age.
Some children take as long as four classes to engage. Once they get involved, they tend to be outstanding students, as they are usually very coachable.
Pick a school where the instructors are kind towards children.
The instructor must be interested in teaching children and sensitive to their needs. It is amazing how many schools out there are really not that interested in teaching children martial arts, they just do it as a “money spinner”. You can tell by observing a few classes how passionate the instructors are about teaching children.
What strategies have worked for you to help your child face the fear of joining in their first martial arts class?