Parents rightly are cautious about any activity or sport they allow their smaller little treasures to be influenced by. I have seen this in their eyes hundreds if not thousands of times when deciding whether or not to enroll their toddler in martial arts classes. Are karate classes for toddlers teaching them to be violent or curbing these innate tendencies?
Karate classes for toddlers should promote non-violent conflict resolution, personal safety, and physical fitness over all else. Self defense for toddlers should revolve around effectively getting away from an aggressor in order to seek help from a known adult.
How can teaching to kick, punch, wrestle, and swing soft swords teach kids to contain active or even aggressive desires? There so many ways classes like these can help. Here we can look at a few that have lasting impact on smaller children, and don’t promote violence.
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Can Toddlers Really Get Much From A Karate Class?
Not only is a program such as Karate a great directed activity for the developing cognition and physicality of toddlers, it is also confirmed as such by university studies and research. The evidence is rather overwhelming.
A study was conducted by researchers in the Kinesiology and Health Science department at York University, Toronto, ON, Canada on toddlers and directed physical activities like Karate.
It was discovered after surveying many studies about specific sport activities like Karate that early “participation is related to primarily positive outcomes (e.g. enhanced social skills, pro-social behaviours, self-regulation).”
This evidence points to something that millions of families in the U.S. have known for many decades. Martial arts does not promote violence, but supports good character, responsibility, and good overall health in children that participate.
There are many types of personalities and temperaments in children at that age. One factor that can usually be counted on is the tendency towards impulse control problems. Emotions sometimes can be hard to control for their little minds.
Young children usually learn by mimicking what they see and actively learning through repetition. Have you ever noticed that children want to see the same movie hundreds of times? They are getting a sense of normal from the story and learning to mimic reactions to situations.
Sometimes they do this because they find parts of it funny or exciting. Sometimes they do it in the same way adults gravitate to shows like Seinfeld or The Office.
Even as adults we enjoy watching others in social situations to see acceptable and unacceptable reactions. Outcomes are funny, embarassing, or heartfelt. We like them all.
Toddlers learn how to be by experiencing, touching, and observing. If you only say ‘no’ to aggressive or violent behavior, they still have a need to try it out when you aren’t looking.
Karate gives them a time and place to be rough and tumble. This is coupled with strict boundaries and taking care of others in the process. Pads are okay to hit, but not sisters. Swinging padded swords are okay, but only in Karate class. You get the picture.
If you simply say, ‘no’, they become frustrated. If you say, ‘that is only for karate class’, now you have redirected. Redirection is such a great tool and takes away the need to confront them with a negative message.
I can tell you that I have contact with hundreds of preschool through elementary teachers. These range from Montessori schools to private Christian schools, public to homeschools. Nearly all have told me that they use my name and class regularly for redirection.
The conversation goes something like this…
Teacher: Dagmawi, what does Master Booe say about using Karate outside of Karate class?
Dagmawi: Don’t do it.
Teacher: That’s right. Where do we do Karate?
Dagmawi: In Karate class.
Teacher: And are we supposed to hit our friends or take their things?
Teacher: That’s right. Now, go tell Bridged you are sorry. I am going to tell Master Booe and have him remind you as well.
When I get this information, I remember to have the child sit out and watch at least one drill then address them directly with my best ‘dad voice’.
This redirection reinforces a time and place rather than an indefinite ‘never’.
Toddlers can get frustrated easily with a ‘never’. They need to be redirected. Many times they simply forget about whatever it was and move on to the next impulse.
One of the dad’s of one of my former students remarked, “I have never seen anyone get that much out of a group of toddlers in my life.”
If you would like to see how I do it, take a look at this video and visit the link below. I put out tons of energy each week and spend countless hours trying to help young kids with character, physicality, and self esteem.
How Can Karate Help Toddlers With Aggression?
In a Russian study done by researchers at Pace University, distinct evidence linked martial arts training and a decrease in aggressive behavior in children. The study went further to distinguish these findings from results from other types of physical sports.
These same results were not found to come from other sports and even more so from traditional styles of martial arts rather than newer hybrid forms. Older more traditional training methods found in styles like Karate and Kung Fu were the culprits of these decreased aggressive tendencies.
Where many sports put competition for its own sake on a pedestal, traditional martial arts use it only as a tool, which directs children toward higher goals. This same thing can be noted with styles like MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. These newer styles base themselves solely on direct combat and competition techniques.
What can be learned from this study and many others like it is the immensely positive effects of setting goals of good character and virtue. Traditional styles do this at their core and teach meekness and control along with their techniques. This is sadly lacking in many popular styles that center around Mixed Martial Arts.
For toddlers, these loftier goals can be taught through creative activities, co-operative learning, and positive adult role models. Karate is a perfect vehicle for these sorts of opportunities.
Aggressiveness and violent tendencies in young children can be curbed and redirected to constructive Karate drills and even games. Adults in training groups used to working out in intense manners laud the benefits of ‘blowing it out’.
This refers to directing stress and frustrations into acceptable avenues within the martial arts. This can also be done for toddlers trying to impose their whims over others and disregarding boundaries.
Redirection is the name of the game when it comes to aggressive behaviors in toddlers. They won’t understand what to do with their overactive emotions. When they are over-stimulated or stressed, martial arts gives them a proper outlet to effectively ‘reset’ their tiny brains.
One real problem I encounter with some types of parents and teachers is a tendency to blame Karate classes or whatever martial art children may be exposed to for violent actions a child may exhibit.
This may be true with a young child in Mixed Martial Arts cage fighting training. But the huge amounts of wrong involved with that scenario is an article of its own.
Most quality instructors of children are sensitive to what they are teaching children. Higher character goals are admittedly lacking in many of these schools, but teaching children to be aggressive is completely contrary to what the martial arts is supposed to be for a child.
Here is an example of an encounter I had with a teacher.
The teacher contacted me very ‘concerned’ and wanting to talk to me about my teaching practices. I understandably wanted all the details before discussing how any of my teaching practices should be addressed.
I contacted the teacher, who immediately began to blame my class for an injury a child sustained while exiting her classroom a few days before. Apparently the child bent over to tie a loose shoe string when the young boy behind him became impatient.
The boy that felt he was being held up by this episode, kicked the bent over classmate between the legs, it seems fairly hard. The poor little guy just trying to tie his shoes ended up with significant busing in the groin area.
The teacher in hostile tones began to ask what it was I was teaching these kids in my karate class.
The first thing I wanted to know was which child this could have been. She told me the name of each of the boys.
I responded, “Ma’am, neither one of those boys have ever been in my Karate class. I hate that this happened, but you should check with the parents or maybe give some random soccer coach a call.”
After a bit of stammering about he said, she said the conversation ended with her quick retreat.
Can Karate Classes Help Shy Little Ninjas?
Irrational fears are a part of some kids lives as they grow and get used to their environments. There are a myriad of causes for it, but there is really only one major cure for the problem.
They have to be shown that normal, everyday life is not nearly as dangerous as their over-reacting brains tell them that it is. Showing them will work where telling them fails.
A great way to do this is by putting them in situations that make them uncomfortable on a gradually increasing scale. They realize, “Hey, I did it and I didn’t die!”
Once they are used to that environment or those events, it is time to move on to stronger stimuli. Karate classes do this is a powerful way for toddlers.
If you don’t do this, and with some kids it takes a while even when you do, permanent personality traits may develop that make them over cautious and easily stressed. This happens with fear of the unknown as well as slight injuries.
An example I can give comes from my own daughter before she was two and a half years old. One of her first widely used phrases was ‘bye-bye’. Some would think it was so cute that she was saying that to them.
We knew the truth. She wanted people she didn’t know to go away. She realized bye-bye means ‘you go away’.
They made her uncomfortable. She would many times say it when she would first encounter a new person.
One of my assistant instructors commented one time, “She has seen me nearly every day for a year now, but still chants bye-bye at me and cries if I try to pick her up.” It was a problem.
How did we get her over this? Karate classes.
We put her in class settings that made her uncomfortable even at a very young age. The more she got comfortable with it, the more we had her do in each class and the more classes she did.
If you have read some of our other posts, then you know Lex now is a world traveler, former year-long exchange student to Germany, and a full scholarship recipient to LSU (out of state college for us)! She took off from those fearful beginnings and flew.
Could this work for your child? Studies say that it can.
In a study published by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that self esteem and a positive self image increased in Karate students as they gained higher rank and spent more time training.
Not only was it the fact that they became more comfortable pushing their limits and feeling out their physical boundaries. They also gained a sense of accomplishment from achieving long term goals. They saw themselves succeed.
Not All Instructors Are Comfortable Teaching Younger Children.
This type of statement is not meant to be a slight. Though, if an instructor without the proper skill to deal with younger ages is botching the job and doing it anyway, maybe it is.
It is actually meant to point out that many of us are better at some things than at others. It is a fact of life. We are not all equal. Go play a one on one version of any sport with a professional athlete and you will immediately feel it.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. This is not a statement in any way about the intrinsic value we all possess simply by being human. Every last one of us is valuable.
Some instructors are excellent at teaching adults either for self-defense or competition with the rule systems of their particular sport. They spend most of their time doing it and that is where their strengths lie.
If you put this instructor in a room full of fifty 3 year olds, the panic will be apparent on his face. That scenario takes a completely different set of skills than a room full of adults. The same situation will result with similar outcomes if reversed.
Instructor selection for toddlers is crucial. This one thing can set your Little Ninja up for success or failure right from the beginning.
To be honest, I tell parents that most of the time at that young age, style matters way less than the instructor that will be teaching the class. I am not talking about a school owner or program director of a dojo. They matter very little.
It comes down to who is teaching the class and directly interacting with your child. Do they have kids of their own? Are they at least in their mid twenties? How long have they taught the age group? Have they had any specific training to deal with toddlers?
What Are Some Warning Signs That Your Toddlers Karate Class May Not Be A Good Fit?
All Karate classes for toddlers are not created the same. As was stated before, the main component is the instructor and their experience with the age group.
There are some definite red flags that need to be recognized early. These could let a parent know that the environment is anywhere from unsuitable to unsafe.
Inappropriate Techniques Taught To Toddlers
Though many instructors have a general sense of what is okay to teach younger children and what is not, you may be surprised at what some are willing to show these kids. I have seen strangle holds, groin kicks, knife techniques, arm bars, and neck cranks all taught to these young children.
They are done with the mantra, “It’s just part of the art and they can’t do them properly anyway.”
Not only is this morally reprehensible, but completely false. Karate or other styles taught to toddlers must have their curriculums modified. Many techniques you would teach to teens and adults should never be taught to small children.
Their ability to perform the techniques is of no consequence. It is plainly immoral on an instructor’s part to teach them in the first place. Besides, I have seen small children cause injuries to other children using these very techniques.
Yelling As A Form Of Discipline
It is admittedly hard at times to keep the attention of toddlers or get them to change their focus once fixated on some random object. Yet, there is no excuse for angry or disciplinary yelling.
Preschool aged kids in a Karate class are there for fun and to learn proper behavior. Being subjected to angry raised voices from adults that should be there to inspire is beyond counterproductive.
What it takes from an instructor is a large amount of patience, redirection, and most importantly… energy. These Little Ninjas are expert consumers of energy. They use up massive amounts on their own and demand it from the adults around them.
In order to keep them on task, it is the responsibility of the teacher of the class to inspire rather than scold. Sure, there are rare times when reprimanding is needed, but the majority of the time this should have been preempted long before.
Live Sparring At This Age Is Inappropriate
Mostly what a toddler should be taught it how NOT to hit. It is fine in drill and game form to have them play in a ‘game of tag’ format. Any more aggressive forms of sparring or live training can confuse their little minds.
It is a natural tendency for most kids to hit, scratch, and even bite to get what they want. They have to be taught not to do these things to impose their will on others.
Live sparring at such a young age blurs the lines. It is hard for them to make the difference in their minds. Soon they will realize the intimidation factor this type of action has on their friends and how they ‘magically’ ended up with all the toys.
We as instructors must teach them responsibility with the techniques they learn. It is vitally important to show them the difference and let them grow into the meaning before live training is allowed.
The Toddler Karate Class Takeaway…
Studies show that Karate classes can help toddlers in many ways. There are physical and mental advantages you can give your child with Karate that are hard to replicate with any other sport or activity.
This also applies to curbing the aggressive tendencies of toddlers. Do Karate classes increase violent behavior in toddlers? No, they do not. Furthermore, studies show that aggressive and violent behaviors decrease as the child increases in belt ranks.
For shy or backwards kids, Karate can be the key to helping them overcome crippling fears. Through training they can see themselves succeed and develop a healthy and positive self image.
The main key to these positive outcomes in most cases relies on finding a quality instructor and as a parent actively involving yourself in controlling your child’s influences and environment. The instructor can make or break the experience.
If you would like to sample how I teach toddlers live and streamed directly into the safety of their own homes, take a look at the information in this video. I would love to see your Little Ninjas in my online Karate class for toddlers.