It’s been said, time and again, that for a child to learn what is most important, he must be shown the lessons through example, not through words. And, if we are to nurture certain traits within our children, we must first develop those traits in ourselves.
I’ve been teaching martial arts to children for a decade and a half and I’ve discovered something amazing about children – they want to learn what is expected of them. For all of the ‘button-pushing,’ resistance to your wishes and what-not, children want to know the rules and have a deep-down, almost inherent, need to “do it right.”
Unfortunately, I’ve also discovered that many of the parents who bring their children to our programs live by two deep-seated desires. And even though they express their wishes for their child to develop more confidence, discipline, and respect – not to mention the ability to protect themselves from the dangers that they know exist in the world, they will almost always default to these desires, even though it means that their child may never develop these important traits and abilities.
What are these desires?
1) That their child is never angry at them, and,
2) that they never want to have to say “no.”
Is this true about all parents? No, of course not. But it is true about many.
Even without these words being spoken, the message is plain and clear when it comes in the following forms:
“She doesn’t want to come to class and I don’t want to force her.”
“Really,” I say. “And why not?”
‘Excuse me?”, comes the reply. “I don’t understand.”
“Well,” I add, “don’t you make her do other things that she doesn’t want to do?” “I’m sure you make her brush her teeth daily, go to school even when she says she doesn’t want to, and probably a dozen or so more things every day, don’t you?”
“Yes, but that’s different,” is often the reply.
“Different?” I ask, “how so?” “Don’t you think this is important?” “Isn’t it still as important today, as the day you brought her in and said she needed to be confident and learn to protect herself?”
Here’s another one that my staff and I hear regularly.
“I’m not going to commit my son to a year (or three year) program. That’s too long for someone his age. He doesn’t know what he wants”
Again, my response is that the parent is missing something in the logic, if it’s logic that’s driving at all.
“Is your child in school?”, I ask.
“Of course,” comes the reply.
“So you do think that an education is important and will take a considerable amount of time to prepare your son for the real world?”
“Yes. I don’t see what that has to do with karate classes.”
“It has everything to do with karate classes, because this is an education too. One that your son won’t get in school or out of a text book. And, what he learns here in the way of confidence, discipline, pride, respect, and the ability to stand up for what is right, will affect every other part of his life, for the rest of his life.”
Again, I hear, “But this is different.”
“How?,” I ask. “He will be going to school for the next eleven to thirteen years, not counting college. And, I’m sure that you’ll make him go, even on those days when he doesn’t want to. You will have all the right reasons to explain to him why this is important, right? No sir, this is no different. It is exactly the same. And, if its important for your child to learn the lessons you brought him here to learn, it’s less important whether he likes it or not. And, as for him not knowing what he wants, that’s what we as parents and teachers are here for, isn’t it. To guide, provide opportunities and to give our children what they need, even if it’s not what they want.”
The actress Bette Davis was quoted as saying, “If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.” I believe this because I believe that my job is not to be my child’s friend, but to be his guide, mentor, and teacher for handling the challenges of life. If I don’t, then who will? And besides, there’s plenty of time to be his or her friend after they have grown to adulthood, had the same experiences in the world, and can relate on an adult level. There is a huge difference between being ‘friendly’ and being ‘friends.’
To many, I’m sure that all of this seems harsh and many, I’m certain, have already stopped reading altogether. My point is simple. We, as parents and teachers are teaching your children regardless of whether we open our mouths and say the words in the lesson or not.
If we’re to teach our children to do what’s important, not just what feels good…
…if we are to teach them the value of committing to a worthwhile endeavor because it’s worthwhile, not just because it’s easy or convenient…
…if we’re to teach them to not be quitters in the game of life…
…we must instill the lessons whether they like us for it or not.
How else can we possibly teach, and have our children practice, things like commitment if we never provide the opportunities for them to commit or allow them to quit because something’s not fun? When was the last time our creditors allowed us to stop paying our bills because doing so wasn’t fun?
Edward, the English monarch once commented in a condescending way that we have the troubles we do because American parents obey their children instead of the other way around. After a decade and a half of watching and helping parents to help their children, I don’t know if he’s right but I do know that, the parents who are most committed to their child’s development, regardless of the daily whims of the child – this entity who is changing so rapidly that they don’t want the same things from moment-to-moment, let alone from year-to-year – usually have much more successful adults to be proud of when their children grow up. It is those who commit to teaching commitment, and a hundred other lessons, who are blessed with a child grown to adulthood who can commit to themselves and others and who can be counted on to ‘be there’ when the going gets tough.
Can you imagine? What a world we would live in if all those we met were such a person as this.