Martial Arts for Children - A Note to Parents About Motivation Problems and Child Development

By: Jeffrey Miller

I want to address a common parental concern that I continue to encounter, both in my role as a martial arts teacher, and as a fellow parent. This is in the difficulty that many parents often encounter in getting their youth student to martial arts class only to be even more confused at their child's enthusiasm when they are actually in class. "I have to fight to get them here," or "He just wants to play with his friends," are common complaints that I hear from frustrated parents.

Often, these parents consider letting their son or daughter quit but then come to find that's not what the child wants. "How," they ask me, "can he want to keep training but fight me when it's time to come?"

They find it very difficult to understand the contradiction between having to fight to get their child to class and the fact that they have so much fun when they get there.

To solve the 'mystery' and eliminate the misunderstanding we must first understand the way a child thinks and the way their brain has developed to this point in their young lives.

What makes them resist coming to class but enjoy it once they are here? The answer is...


And this, is linked to the physiological development and growth of their brain.

Quite frankly, children (and some adults) have not developed an understanding of the concept of scheduling and timing. That is to say that, once they have become involved in something, that is what they want to do. Anything else, regardless of how pleasurable or necessary, at that moment is seen as a hindrance to 'this moment's fun.' Whether it is watching TV or playing with their friends, or whatever, once a child becomes involved in something, anything, that "thing" gets ALL of their attention - period.

Don't blame the child or think that you must be a bad parent or the only one dealing with this sort of thing. It is completely natural. The reality of the matter is that...

...your child cannot do what you ask because...

1) He or she is NOT an adult in a smaller body

2) The parts of the brain that process this type of information and data, quite literally, hasn't developed yet, and...

3) He or she has been ALLOWED to get involved in something that you know will capture his or her attention before you need them to go to class

And, therein lies the secret for overcoming both the frustration and the confusion. Just don't allow your young martial artist to get into anything that you KNOW will make him or her not want to stop when it's time to go to martial arts or karate class.

Won't they go stir-crazy? What's a child to do while waiting?

Good question. And the answer is...

...practice "preparing for class." This simple step will actually help your child to develop the skills you're looking for and promote brain growth in those areas.

So, instead of letting them drift into TV Land or whatever, at least for the hour or so before you'll be leaving for class, have them "get ready." Make it a rule that they have to make sure that they have their uniform, belt, and equipment. Have them practice their moves by "showing you what they learned last class" or "what their favorite techniques are."

We as parents and teachers, must help our children over these moments with gentle reminders of other commitments and necessities until they learn this for themselves. Unfortunately, until a child learns to project their thought processes forward to specific time periods (as opposed to the general "can we ____ sometime?" or "when will it be tomorrow?") they will have to be taken away from things they are engaged in 'at the moment.' I know it's rough, but it's also "natural." And, no amount of wishing for an easier job as a parent will make your child's brain work any differently. The fact is that, until this skill develops, YOU will have to be there as a stand-in to help them through.

So, the next time you have to do something like coming to martial arts class, try giving your child a "heads-up" before they become involved in any activity. Once they get in the habit of thinking ahead and preparing for a future event, they will do more and more of it on their own. Until then, it will take a little nudging, prodding, and reminding. But then again, if it didn't, we parents would be out of a job!

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Jeffrey Miller is founder of Warrior Concepts Int'l. He specializes in teaching self-protection and personal development in a way that's easily understood by modern students. Subscribe to his newsletter at

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