One of the challenges of teaching children is that they are still learning how to cope with and express difficult emotions. As adults, we sometimes take for granted our ability to subdue strong difficult emotions until we are ready to deal with the causes of them in a productive manner. Because young children haven’t learned that ability yet, they often resort to disruptive expressions of the emotions like crying, yelling, sulking, etc. As a teacher, this can often be distracting and disruptive to you and your students. It’s important to have a solid strategy for helping children understand and deal with challenging emotions, which teaches them an important life skill while also helping your class run more smoothly. Here is the process I use with my own students:
1) Identify the cause of the emotion. If you have multiple instructors on the mat, it’s best if one of them can bring the child to the side so they can talk without distractions. In my classes, I usually take on this role. I then ask the child, “What happened that made you upset?” This past Saturday, I asked one of our Tykes who had gotten upset and he told me that one of the other students kept getting in his way when they were playing ninja dodge ball with the instructors and because he couldn’t see, he kept getting hit by the ball. He thought the student might have been doing it on purpose too. If the child is too upset to listen and speak, I might also take a few moments to guide them to take a few deep breaths to help calm down.
I have always been hesitant to offer martial arts training for really young children. I’ve baulked at the idea of “Tiny Tigers” or “Little Dragons” programs in the past, based on the idea that the martial arts are too subtle and complex that there is no way a young child can really learn them effectively. And I still believe this. That being said, there are other ways to introduce the martial arts to young children in a manner that is more appropriate for their current level of physical, mental, emotional and social development.
A few months ago Steve Hiscoe Shihan showed me his Ready-Set-Kiai program for young children that introduces some basic concepts of martial arts training, but with a stronger emphasis on teaching fundamental movements skills that all children of that age should be learning so they can participate in sports and develop confidence using their bodies, with a strategic balance of basic martial arts skills that helps them to more seamlessly transition into more complicated martial arts skills later in their development. The program is based around 8 specific skills, which are introduced in more basic forms then built upon with more difficult versions as they master them. (more…)