Troubleshooting Kids Classes

Lesson 52 Chapter 3 Module 3

Not every student in class is perfectly behaved and ready to train. Troublesome students can disrupt even the most dynamic and organized children’s program. Learn some strategies to deal with troublesome kids and help them become better students and better martial artists.

Whether your studio is large or small, you know that developing and teaching a quality children’s program makes great demands on you as an instructor. You want every class to be well-planned, exciting and adept at inculcating the skills and values of the martial arts. You also know that working with children can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Not every student shows up for class motivated, well-mannered and ready to learn. Troublesome kids can disrupt even the most dynamic, well-taught children’s program.
There are certain types of kids who habitually upset the rhythm of your classes, interrupting the learning process for themselves and others. Here are some specific strategies to make these kids better students and successful martial artists.

The Crier

The Crier’s tantrums and tears frequently disrupt your class and cause distraction. The Crier, it seems, cries almost every class for any reason from being accidentally bumped into to having someone cut in front of him in line during a drill. Sometime during his or her growth, this student learned the best way to get attention is to cry. Crying during class is effective because it draws attention from the instructor, other students and from the parents watching. Any attention, he feels, is better than none at all.

Here are some strategies for dealing with a Crier:

Talk to students about shaking it off. With the Crier well in earshot, talk to your students about shaking things off, even when they feel scared or upset. Explain what “shaking it off” means. Talk to them about using Black Belt Effort to continue training when they feel this way. You can even give them a physical technique they can use, such as shaking their whole body, to symbolize shaking off their anxieties.

Sit them out with a strategy. You can’t stop class every time the Crier has a tantrum because the behavior will continue, having achieved its desired effect. Sit the Crier out immediately, but give him or her a calming down strategy. An example would be ten deep breaths and a drink of water before returning to class. Even if it takes five time-outs in one class, eventually the Crier will realize no one is watching and being in class is more fun than sitting it out.

Replace coddling attention with positive feedback. Bombard this student with praise at every turn. Start at the beginning of class and don’t let up. The Crier wants attention, so give it to him in a way that buoys his self-esteem and encourages him to keep training. Compliment the Crier on his/her ability to shake things off as well.

The Fragile Student

This student may not cry, but frequently approaches you claiming he or she is hurt. Any contact with equipment appears to injure the Fragile Student. They often request to sit out of class because some part of their body hurts too much for them to train. Like the Crier, the Fragile Student may want attention. What is more likely, however, is that he has very little confidence. The Fragile Student lives in fear of embarrassment, especially in front of peers. He or she is crushed when things aren’t perfect on the first try.

As with the Crier, a talk on shaking things off will help. However, this is one student you don’t want sitting out of class.

Here are some strategies to deal with the Fragile Student:

Assure them that mistakes are okay. Let the Fragile Student know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of the learning process. The only thing worse than making a mistake is giving up. Praise them for their effort often.

Do an equipment check. Before any activity involving equipment, pass the equipment around for everyone to physically feel to establish that proper contact with it will not hurt.

Shock versus injury. Often, kids are more frightened by contact with equipment or other students than they are hurt. No one likes to have things flying at him or her, no matter how soft or controlled. The next time Fragile gets hit on the head with a foam blocker, ask him if it really hurt or if it was just scary. When he replies, “Scary,” let him know it’s okay to be scared and remind him of the shaking-it-off procedure. Get him right back into class, using positive encouragement to keep him there.

The Elsewhere Student

This student is only there because his parents make him come. He doesn’t want to be in martial arts classes and has no qualms about letting you know it. His desire to be elsewhere often shows itself through lackluster techniques, zero kiais, minimal effort and a poor memory. He may also talk during class, horse around or deliberately break school rules.

A bold Elsewhere Student may even use his/her martial arts on other students or kids at school in hopes of getting thrown out of your school. If this student becomes unmanageable, you may have to consider demoting him or asking him to leave. Here are some strategies to keep it from getting that far:

Find their niche. Among the many things martial arts has to offer, there will be something Elsewhere loves. It may be sparring, kicking, grappling or some other aspect of the art. Once you find his niche, let him practice it once a week, even if it means an extra five minutes of your time after class. Eventually, his enthusiasm for one thing will spill over into the rest of his training.

Hold competitions. Even the most disinterested student loves to compete against his or her peers. Hold competitions during class for best balance, highest kicker or fastest puncher. Even if Elsewhere doesn’t win, be sure to praise him for his effort.

Get parents involved. Ask Elsewhere’s parents to watch class. Elsewhere will be less likely to act up if he knows mom or dad is watching. After class, praise Elsewhere in front of his parents. This gives him incentive to do better and he may even begin to enjoy classes.

The Unfocused Student
This student has an inability to concentrate for very long. He often fidgets and looks around. You have to call his name 20 times just to get his attention for a few fleeting seconds. You could throw a flying sidekick over his head and he wouldn’t notice. In children under seven, this behavior is expected. Students under seven should be taught in a separate program that caters to their age. In students over seven, you may be looking at a case of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). Most children who have been diagnosed are already being treated and cause few problems. But not every student with trouble focusing has a disorder.

Either way, here are a few strategies to get their attention:

Keep them moving. Your classes should be high-energy with very little lag time. If you have lag time at all, it should be after they are sweaty and tired. Change up class activities as much as you can without compromising your class theme. Don’t over-instruct. Too much talking will lose the Unfocused Student immediately.

Ask questions. Asking students questions about the whys and hows of techniques usually snaps the Unfocused Student to attention. This also enhances the learning process for students. If they can tell you why they need to protect their heads in fighting or make a fist a certain way, you’ve got them thinking about their art. Every once in awhile, throw in a silly question like, “Am I wearing a big, funky green hat?” This keeps them on their toes and picks up any unfocused students you may have lost during the Q & A session.

Use all their faculties. Whenever possible, have Unfocused use as much of his body and mind as he can. For example, when kicking, have him keep his hands up and kiai or yell out the name of the kick during each one. Now he is using his hands, feet, and his voice and his mind to do three things at once. It leaves little room for wandering.

Give a point of focus. The Unfocused Student needs a point of focus. He needs something tangible to focus on, otherwise his concentration lapses. This can be a spot on the wall, his reflection in a mirror, a piece of equipment, or a place on his body. A great example is to have him grab his ears while he kicks. This ensures that his hands stay up and keeps his mind focused as well, since he is concentrating on hands and feet at the same time. A point of focus could also be external, such as a pedestal across the room that he can punch or kick toward.

The Call-Out Student

This student is just bursting with things to say. He/she cannot keep from blurting things out during class, whether it’s a random story or an answer to a question you’ve posed to the class. Either way, he can be disruptive and encourage the other students to call out as well. Teaching is challenging enough without the whole class talking at once. As with the Unfocused Student, keep the class moving as much as possible and employ all of the Call-Out Student’s faculties.

Here are some additional strategies for dealing with the Call-Out Student:

Establish specific guidelines. Always set clear and specific guidelines when teaching children. If you want them to raise their hands in answer to a question, be sure to say, “Raise your hand” before you ask the question. When the Call-Out Student yells out during class, tell him, “I know you’re excited, but please raise your hand before you talk.” Make sure to let him know why he has to raise his hand. It’s a part of having good manners as well as helping you keep order in the classroom.

Use talk time. Establish a time for talking and a time for training. Training time is during class; talk time is before or after. This gives students specific guidelines for when to talk and when not to talk. It also cuts down on random call-outs.

Let them practice. Like any martial arts technique, kids need to practice raising their hands. Once it becomes a habit, the Call-Out Student disappears. As with the Unfocused Student, a short Q & A session between high-energy segments of class will help.

Another way to let them practice is a “What’s Wrong” Demo. Have students take a ready stance or listening position. Then tell them, “Raise your hand if you can tell me what’s wrong with this technique.” Throw a technique that is clearly wrong or pretty good with some problems. This is a fun way for students to practice hand-raising and critical thinking. Be sure to call on the Call-Out Student and thank him for raising his hand.
The Bully

This is not a student many would expect to find in a martial arts school, but, occasionally, the Bully shows up in class. He is subtler than schoolyard bullies and may also be an Elsewhere Student. The Bully Student is usually rude and mean to other students, either correcting them instead of training himself or calling them names. Many of the strategies used for the Elsewhere Student or the Unfocused Student will work on the Bully. However, if you are not making any progress, here are more strategies for dealing with The Bully:

Make good manners a part of your curriculum. Emphasize good manners as much as physical prowess. Don’t use words like character or courtesy; kids need simple cues they can easily understand and access. Make the number-one school rule having good manners and establish it with each student as soon as he/she enrolls.

Explain the whys. Kids are naturally curious and skeptical. They are also not as trusting as adults are. They don’t always accept that there is a method behind one’s madness. If they do not understand why they have to do certain things, they won’t want to do it. Most kids go through adolescence having good manners because their parents and teachers say so, without ever knowing why. If you’ve never asked your students, “Why should we have good manners?” and you do so tomorrow, you will likely get a room full of blank faces. Let them know why good manners are important. Ask them, “Would you like someone who hit and kicked you and called you names every time you saw them? Do you want to be around that person?” The answer is unequivocally no. Then, for the Bully’s sake, ask them, “Do you want to be that person?” The answer is also no. You may also need to talk to the Bully in private about his behavior and find a way to discipline him accordingly if his behavior becomes hurtful to other students.

Conference with parents. The Bully Student learned from somewhere that it was okay to be mean or rude to other people. It may or may not have been his parents. Regardless, they need to be alerted to his behavior. Some parents will make excuses for nasty or even violent behavior. Other parents will be equally as concerned as you are and very receptive to helping you in instilling better manners and greater sensitivity in the student. Either way, make it clear to parent and student that you will not tolerate Bully-type behavior in your school. Even if the parents try to excuse their child’s behavior does not mean you have to tolerate it in your classes.

The No-Spunk Student

Probably the most elusive and difficult student of all, the No-Spunk Student responds to nothing. The No-Spunk Student doesn’t cry or feign injury. He is always on time and attends clinics and tournaments. He always pays attention. He claims he wants to be there. He has good manners. In spite of all this, he remains maddeningly unexceptional. His best effort looks the same as his worst effort. He doesn’t seem to excel in any particular aspect of the curriculum. You can’t even find his niche. While he does all that is required of him, he lacks intensity. You’ve tried everything in your arsenal of teaching strategies to fire him up, but he remains ever impassive. You can tell nothing from his facial expression. This student may be shy or just naturally introverted. At some point, before black belt, you will need to see some sign of life. You can use many of the strategies used for other troublesome students on No-Spunk, but if all else fails:

Get to know this student. Take a personal interest in him/her. Ask him how school is going, find out what other activities he is involved in. Talk to him before or after each class, even if all you get is monosyllabic answers. Eventually he will warm up to you and the further you can draw his personality out, the more it will show in class.

Enlist the help of parents. Ask No-Spunk’s parents how he is doing in school and other activities. Let them know you’d like to see more intensity. Parents spend the most time with the student so they may be able to share ways to help you draw No-Spunk out.

You may not encounter all of these students, but sooner or later you will be faced with one or more of them. No amount of bulletproof lesson plans or perfect scripting will keep these students out of your classes. Kids come to your school with issues, fears and learned behaviors the same as adults. With all of these students, the most important thing is not to give up. Remember, there are no bad kids, only kids who need your help. If you try long and hard enough, the students who cause you the most frustration turn out to be your most treasured students. Among other things, martial arts teaches tenacity. We expect tenacity from our kids, why shouldn’t they expect it from us?

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