It’s very exciting when our children begin their martial arts journey. This is especially true of Jiu-Jitsu. When our little ones don their gi (uniform) and walk on the mat and face all these new challenges we can sense our own blood swirl with excitement and we almost feel our own limbs wanting to move for them. How could we not be excited? Our precious little one is now training to be a warrior!
If you have ever put on a gi yourself and walked into a Jiu-Jitsu class you know the mix of excitement, nervousness and fear that comes with starting BJJ. It’s not an easy path for anyone…. especially a young child. But the value of learning to effectively defend yourself (physically and mentally), becoming self-reliant, an expert problem solver, developing true inner confidence and peace is worth it! Our world is getting more challenging, complicated and violent than ever before. As adults we want to give our children the ability to happily and successfully navigate this new frontier. So when you begin to look at Jiu-Jitsu as a practice for your child you want to think about it as a long term commitment not a short term hobby. Now this doesn’t mean that Jiu-Jitsu has to be seven days per week. That’s not a sustainable practice for anyone. For most kids 2-4 consistent days per is perfect. (never more than 6 days per week) Remember, it’s about a sustainable practice that outlives the present moment. We want them training when they’re six… but we REALLY want them to be still training when they’re 16 and they really need it.
Negative Effects on Coaching during class:
Children often refer to what their parent says which can be different from what the instructor might recommend. It causes confusion with soo many voices. Although we may think we’re doing the best thing by coaching over the coach during class it actually has the complete opposite effect. When you coach your child it:
Censures their problem solving skills
Denounces their decision making abilities
Reduces their limitless creativity
Increases completely unnecessary pressure
Your child will not learn from their own mistakes
Decreases their natural coping skills
Increases stress and anxiety
Prevents your child from mastering life skills
Minimizes their autonomy
How to coach your child
The best coaching is a smile, hug or a thumbs up! If a parent yells instructions to a child from across the room it creates a very distressing environment for both children. When we grapple in Jiu-Jitsu our body will very easily go into a “fight or flight” response. This is true of adults, but especially children. Our brain doesn’t fully develop until 25 years old. For a child hearing their parent yelling instructions or worse the other child whose being coached against, it can create serious stress and raise cortisol levels which is not healthy or safe. In Jiu-Jitsu the most important lessons needs to learned through personal experience. When you grapple it’s a constant game of problem solving and decision making. It’s especially powerful because you are alone and have to face each lesson. This develops an amazing sense of confidence and self-reliance. No one can do it for you… how powerful is that!
If we try to do all of the problem solving for them…. they never learn the lesson, and worse it stunts their decision making ability. As a parent it’s hard to not want to yell instructions… after all they are our babies and we want the best for them! But truly the best for them is to allow them to spread their wings and fully experience it for themselves.
In addition to Jiu-Jitsu my own children also take dance lessons. I’ve never danced before in my life (at least not very well lol). We generally watch the first 10 minutes then we leave and come back for the last 10 minutes. We don’t hover or coach… we allow dance to be their experience. By the way why would I coach… I know nothing about dance. I trust in the coaches and allow them to be the experts. When we leave we ask our children, how was dance? Is there anything you want to share? We don’t offer dance tips and tell them what they should have been doing right or wrong. Again, we are not the experts so we allow them to fully enjoy the experience with no additional stress from us. (Two hours of dance is already hard enough) If your child has something that happened in class that they want to share… then they will share it. Encourage don’t criticize. Jiu-Jitsu is tough enough on its own. Keep your words positive and allow this to be a fun, life affirming experience that they can grow from.
Tips for parents:
Focus on the benefits.
We’re not trying to make them the best at exercising. It’s okay if their push ups aren’t spectacular.
Interact and find support with other parents.
Don’t criticize your child.
Don’t show signs of stress.
Let them have fun.
Don’t yell advice to your child in class.
A smile or thumbs up goes a long way. When you look happy and calm they will play off your emotional state.
When they come over for a drink of water give them a quick hug or high five and some encouraging words. “You’re so brave!” “I’m so proud of you!” “You inspire me!” “You can do this. . . great job!”
They’re not perfect. They are little undeveloped brains trying to figure this all out. A good rule of thumb is that kids have about 5 minutes of focus for every year that they have lived. So a typical 5 year old is good for about 20-25 minutes. Expect that they’ll need a drink and a quick hug about every 20 minutes. For the younger kids expect that they’ll fidget, lose focus, need hugs, pick their nose and do a host of things that you won’t always like. Remind yourself… it’s all normal!
It’s always about creating a sustainable practice. Remember, we want them to still be doing this when they’re a young adult and they’ll really use these tools. No pressure, keep it fun and they’ll be doing it forever!
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Join in on the conversation! Leave us a comment with your experience. Share any advice you might have or lessons you’ve learned along the way.