My kids LOVE jiu-jitsu, and I love what it has done for them. When they get into an argument, it usually ends with them on the ground smiling, laughing, and trying to submit each other. They aren't in constant fear of bullying at school, and they have gained many tools that help them avoid abusive or harmful situations. I love seeing them with their hand raised after winning a competition or the smile on their face after earning a promotion. They are in good physical shape and have learned that they don't have to be angry or aggressive to be strong. What it has done for their athleticism and confidence is nothing short of amazing.
Being a parent and a jiu-jitsu instructor doesn't mean that it has always been easy. All seven of my children have trained with me. The logistics of getting them to class is hard enough, not to mention the challenge of keeping them motivated. Every one of them has struggled at some point to stay dedicated. Being the instructor hasn't stopped the daily battles of "I don't want to go to class today" or "can't I just stay home and play Minecraft?" Each one of them has gone through a phase or two where they just don't want to go to class. Once that battle starts, it usually turns quickly to "Maybe I should just let them quit," especially when the battle seems harder on me than it is on them.
A while back I read an article written by a martial arts instructor telling parents that they should never, under any circumstances, allow their children to quit martial arts. Allowing them to quit, he argued, would turn them into lifelong quitters. From a business standpoint, I guess that made some sense. From a parenting standpoint, I wasn't so sure. So...
How do I teach my kids to persevere without making them hate jiu-jitsu by forcing them to do it?
With the help of many parents, students, some great martial arts instructors, and my own kids, we made some changes in our home that have made all the difference.
First, understand what is really going on here. I mean, give the kids some credit! You are asking them to leave home, abandon the remote, get off the couch, and drive across town so that they can sweat, exercise, and grapple with other well-trained students. Everything in us is biologically programed to conserve energy and avoid a challenge. How do you feel on your way to the gym, on the way to work, or before a hard workout? Once things get rolling we usually do just fine, but getting the ball rolling can be tough. If a student is afraid of getting hurt or scared of what is happening in class, it's time for a meeting with the instructor, but in most cases it's much more simple than that. Class is going to be difficult and our kids are smart enough to know that.
Second, have a talk - ahead of time - about commitment and hard work. This is the perfect time to teach kids that nothing worth pursuing in life comes easily. I ask my children, "Is this something you want to be good at? Are you willing to do what it takes to be the best you can be?" This is very different from the question we often focus on today - "is it fun?" Fun is great, but rewarding is much more important. Developing skills isn't nearly as fun as using the ones you already have. This doesn't mean my kids are locked in for life, but I usually set a minimum before I will even consider letting them quit. When the subject comes up, I remind them that we agreed ahead of time that they would commit at least a year (or whatever time period we discussed) to this activity before they consider quitting. "When we commit to something, we follow through."
Third, give the child some control. Special thanks to Mark Johnson of Westside Jiu-Jitsu for sharing this idea with me. Just because we are committed to something doesn't mean we can't allow ourselves some flexibility. Absolute rigidity is the reason most budgets, diets, and workout regimens fail. My children are allowed one or two "passes" a month (depending on their age). If they have another activity planned or a friend invites them over, they are allowed to use one pass to skip class. I trust them to know the best times to use those passes, and to be honest, they rarely use them all. More than anything, this has taught my kids to prioritize and make decisions carefully.
Fourth, help your student see the long term rewards of hard work. Point out the improvements you see. Let them know that you can see the hard work paying off. Help them recognize the progress they are making. Tell them that you can see the improved strength, the conditioning, the skill, the attitude. If their training means a lot to you, it will mean the world to them.