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Is it okay to force my child to do martial arts?

Yes it's ok to force your child to do martial arts in the same way it's ok for you to force your child to brush their teeth or to eat their vegetables. If you believe that a 5 year old is capable of making adult decisions about what is best for themselves, then you should let your child quit going to school the first time they say that they don't want to go.

Martial Arts Kids Class

An essential rule of parenting that everybody should know is that lessons should be taught through examples and not by words. That means that if we want our children to fully nurture a certain trait, we should aim first to develop that trait in ourselves.

More than ten years working as a martial arts professor has allowed me to discover an amazing feature in children. Children will learn the things you expect from them. In a sense, there's an innate feeling of wanting to meet their parents' expectations of them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, that's just how it is. But parents can benefit from using this correctly.

Pleasing a child at all costs

Another thing I've discovered as a martial arts professor is that some of the parents that bring their children to my classes coexist with two very harmful beliefs. They may want the best for their children in terms of values. They want their children to be confident, respectful, disciplined and prepared to fight this dangerous world. Yet, they eventually fall prisoners of these beliefs – even when they could be harming their children by doing so.

These two internal beliefs are:

* The belief that their child should never be angry at them.
* The belief that they should always please them and never say "no."

Not all parents are like this though. I have encountered many centered parents during the years. Parents who know that sometimes, they have to be the enemy and force their child to do something for their own good. But other parents don't get that. They spend their life pleasing their children and never really expecting anything from them. The lack of parental expectations in children certainly isn't a good thing.

Overprotecting Children

"I just don't want to force him"

I've had very interesting conversations with parents like this over the years. When they come and say that their child doesn't want to keep coming to my classes or that the process is too long and their child will not benefit from it. Conversations with these type of child-pleasing parents usually go something like this:

"Listen, I didn't bring my child today because he said that he didn't want to come."

"Seriously? And why didn't you bring him anyways?" I add.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand your point. He said he didn't want to come and I just don't want to force him."

"Okay, but I'm sure that you force him to do other things that he maybe doesn't want to do," I say. "I'm very sure that you force him to eat vegetables and to wake up early to go to school, right?"

"Sure, but it's not the same thing." That's a response I hear very often.

"I think they're the same thing. I don't think that they're different things at all. Don't you think that this is also important for him? Here he learns about discipline, resilience, respect, and self-defense. I believe that those things are also important for a child to learn."

Discipline

"It will take her too much time"

Another conversation I usually have with parents like this goes something like this:

"I don't think I should commit my daughter to a year program. She's too young for that and it will take her too much time."

Sometimes parents are missing the logic of their argument. I answer calmly and respectfully to them by pointing out how that is a very flawed argument.

"Okay, I understand, but I have a question for you. Is your daughter going to school?" That's a question I like to ask.

"Of course," is what follows every time.

"Well, then that means that you think that education is something valuable. Valuable enough to make your child commit to it for a long time just to be prepared for the real world in the future."

"Of course I do. But what does all of that have to do with karate lessons?"

"Everything!," I say. "Martial arts are another form of education for your daughter. A kind of education that she won't get from the traditional school setting. The lessons she will learn here will have a tremendous impact on her life."

"I guess, but I think it's a little different." This is the good old typical response I get most of the time.

"It's not different at all. We're talking about the school system, right? That means that she will go to school for almost twelve years of her life – without counting college. And there will obviously be days where you'll have to explain to her the reasons why she has to go to school, even when she doesn't want to. It's the same for this. Karate serves as a way for her to be disciplined and to commit to goals. And I believe that's an important trait of any well-functioning adult. I've heard many people say that they wish their parents would've kept them motivated every time they wanted to drop something. She might not know what she wants, but that's what parents are for, to guide their children. To give them valuable opportunities even when they don't want them."

If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent

Parents aren't supposed to be their child's best friend. They are supposed to be their mentors in life, they should be the ones guiding them and giving them the tools to prosper, because if they don't do that, who will?

I'm pretty sure that this concept might sound rough to many parents. Many others may have stopped reading a long time ago. We need to be clear about the role of parents in a child's life. 

A parent must:

  • Teach them what's important, not what feels good.
  • Encourage them not to be quitters.
  • Tell them about the value of commitment

Children might not like this, but parents must insist on these lessons.

The practice is the best example. How are you supposed to teach children the value of discipline and commitment if you always let them quit whenever they're not feeling entertained? Has any creditor ever told you it's okay to stop paying them if it isn't fun? I don't think so.

After a decade of dealing with families, I can honestly say one thing. The parents that commit the most to their child's development, even when their kid complains, are the ones that create successful men and women. These types of parents get rewarded with sons and daughters that can commit to themselves and to their friends and family.

The thought of a child like that should spark something inside every parent, and it's definitively something to remember every time they walk up to a martial arts class.