Chief Instructor: Sifu John C. Loupos - Since 1968

Should I Make My Child Attend Class?

by Sifu John Loupos

I have chosen this topic for the lead article because this is a question I'm often asked by parents. What is a parent to do when Johnny resists going to class? My response to this, like other such questions, is that it depends on the individual circumstances of the child (or teen). Obviously, I prefer not to lose an active student to boredom or to other interests. But as the Sifu I must be an advocate for all my students and that means on occasion I must put a child's best interests before those of the school. So my answer to this question is not as easy for me as one might imagine. The fact is that people of all ages come and go. For some kids (like the one I once was) Kung Fu becomes a life long endeavor, while for others Kung Fu classes are a more transient (but hopefully positive) experience.
I do have some helpful guidelines and thoughts on this matter for parents to consider in determining what is the best course of action for your child. First of all, it is the nature of childhood to be entranced with all the possibilities that the world has to offer. Childhood is a time of discovery and of sensory indulgence. It is natural and healthy for kids to want to experiment with different activities, but just as some children are better at self regulating, others are not. And so, part of the parents' role is to guide their child in learning how to discriminate life's limits as well as its possibilities.
Kung Fu is a discipline, a fun discipline as much as possible, but still a discipline. There's no getting around that. And sometimes when confronted with the choice of participating in a discipline (which, by definition, involves learning and study according to a set standard of rules) or playing with friends, TV, etc. children will naturally choose the activity offering the more immediate gratification.
For one child it might be healthy to shift and explore amongst different activities more or less at will, while for others a case can be made for learning stick-to-itiveness'. Even in the former case I think kids should have some boundaries ie: unless there is a valid reason kids should generally be required by parents to complete tasks once begun. Now that I'm through waffling between the two extremes let me present my reasons in advocacy of staying with the program. The gist of this article after all is commitment'.
We live in a throw away society. Almost everything consumer able has disposability built into it as a convenience factor. The problems with this trend and technology have become self evident over recent years and are being appropriately addressed by the recycling movement, et al. However, disposability' extends beyond consumer goods and has taken root as well in our collective consciousness, extending itself into our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. And this presents an entirely different set of problems. Kids today who grow up having learned the lesson that the solution to any problem is to excuse oneself from it, or bail out, will eventually become adults who do the same thing.
Obvious examples that comes to my mind have to do with interpersonal commitment, career, marriage, etc. People are often too limited in their ability to recognize and solve problems because they've not developed the resources to do so. Relationships in particular, probably provide the most challenging of contexts for learning how to recognize and solve problems as they arise. (It can be costly to "earn while you learn" in a relationship). The easiest (and least costly) time to acquire these skills is early in life. Here at Jade Forest I try to teach martial arts not just for martial purposes but to better prepare students to live their lives more productively. Among the most important skills I try to help children and young adults develop in the Jade Forest program are critical thinking and problem solving. Exactly how I try to accomplish that in any given group depends on the age of the kids and the problem (or challenge) at hand. With younger kids the problem might be, "He pushed me", with older kids the issues are most often social or moral. In either case, though solutions of some sort are usually called for, I'm just as interested in engaging the kids to find that solution for themselves. By so doing the kids come to see themselves as better able to solve problems by themselves or by working cooperatively towards a solution with their peers (ie: the Jrs class organizes their own Holiday party every year). I find that kids who develop these skills learn as well how to better self regulate in other areas ie: temper, homework, prioritizing etc. When confronted with a problem in class I try to help the kids arrive at an acceptable solution themselves (time permitting), or at least to participate in my own thought process (so they have that as a model) towards a solution. I believe this can be enormously valuable in establishing constructive problem resolution skills to be applied throughout one's life.
However, I believe the antithesis to this approach is to let a youngster indiscriminately bounce from activity to activity solely on whim. Kids need to learn the importance (and consequences) of commitment early on so that a commitment once undertaken is not taken lightly. Again, this can be age appropriate and need not be a big deal, but I believe, as regards the issue of classes here, that enrollment commitments of three months or so at a time are reasonable and appropriate for kids up to age 6, up to six months for ages 6- 10, and six to twelve months for older youngsters and teens.
Almost every young student arrives sooner or later at a juncture point where the glossy appeal of Kung Fu has worn off (the work requires effort, time, and discipline) and some newer more novel activity beckons. I have no illusions about the ease/ demands of parenting having raised three children to adulthood myself. And so I understand that it can present something of a dilemma when Johnny says "I don't want to go to class today/ anymore". Yet, I feel strongly that parents should use this opportunity to negotiate (and teach negotiation skills) by insisting that a youngster fulfill his or her commitment, only after which time will other activity options be considered. Youngsters should be taught and encouraged to take the long view rather than be allowed to quit the first time another interest or distraction comes along. I can't recall how many times over the years younger members of my class have gone on to reach an advanced level after going through phases of doubt or ennui only to have their interest and enthusiasm renewed because they stuck with their classes despite a temporary slump in interest.
Of course there can and will be a wide range of individual circumstances. And this as well presents an opportunity to learn about the benefits of collaborating with others to solve problems. By this I mean parents are always welcome to consider an inclusive approach, ie: a sit down meeting with the Sifu in order to explore all possible options, rather then let their child get in the habit of making unilateral decisions based on the whim of the moment. At the very least this teaches the value of closure and regard for others. There is always a lesson to be learned, and here the process of lesson-learning may prove to be of greater eventual value than whatever is the end result of the moment or issue at hand.

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