Are we training our children to be quitters?

Help! My child wants to quit! Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

Many parents today are raising their children to be quitters. I am sure that this is not deliberate; I doubt that any parent intentionally decides, “I’m teaching my child to be a quitter. Most of us, in fact, want our children to be winners. We want them to be the best that they can be. Unfortunately, our modern American culture is working against us. As a society, we have so little perseverance, so little endurance, and so little stamina that it becomes difficult for us as parents to instill these important values in our children. All too often we quit trying, sometimes even before we start. Without meaning to, we are teaching our children to give up.

Not that long ago, I heard a conversation between a mother and young daughter that would have been unthinkable back when I was growing up. Their discussion went something like this:

Mom: Are your piano lessons getting to be too hard? You don’t have to keep them up, you know.
Child: It’s OK. I like piano.
Mom: It seems that the teacher makes you practice an awful lot. If you feel like it’s too much for you, let me know. You can do something else besides piano.
Child: Mom! I said I wanted to play piano.
Mom: I know you said that, dear, but your last lesson didn’t look like fun to me. Your teacher seems really strict. I can certainly understand if you want to quit.
At this point, the child seemed both bewildered and slightly exasperated.
Child: Mo-o-om! What are you saying? I thought you wanted me to take piano lessons! Now you want me to quit?
Mom: I just want you to have fun. Your teacher doesn’t know everything, you know, and just because she says you have to practice or play a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Child: But she’s the teacher! Why can’t I keep on taking lessons?
Mom: Of course you can keep on taking lessons, honey. I just don’t want you to feel like you can’t ever quit.

This woman certainly appeared to be a loving, caring mother. I was left as bewildered as her daughter. Why would any parent seem so determined to discourage her daughter from persevering in a worthwhile endeavor? Why not encourage diligent practice, excellence, good learning habits, and dedication?

Contrast this example with that of a mother-in-law I know and a friend’s husband. As a young lad, he wanted to play the trumpet. However, soon the novelty wore off, and the realities of learning to play an instrument became a bit overwhelming to him. There were tears. The mother-in-law encourage him, appealed to his character, and gave him pep talks. All was to no avail. He was adamant about quitting.

Then she played her trump card. “If you want to quit,” she announced, “you will have to tell your teacher why.” End of discussion.

Needless to say, he never got up the nerve to tell his teacher that the reason he wanted to quit was because trumpet was no longer fun and exciting. Instead, he learned to persevere, to work hard, to succeed — and to love the trumpet.

I’m thankful for that mother-in-law. She taught my friend’s husband to be an overachiever. It wasn’t easy for her; it required her to set aside her own feelings and to encourage her young boy to do the right thing — no matter how hard — but the end results of those many lessons in perseverance have more than paid off.

What if your child wants to quit? What are you going to teach him or her?
There are a number of reasons why students may want to quit. How should you respond to the most common ones?

“It’s just not fun anymore!” Of course we all want our precious children’s young years to be fun, rather than just filled with work and drudgery and sorrow. But is the “fun factor” the main criteria we want to teach our children to use in determining the value of something? I hope not.

First, it is important to find out the underlying reasons why your child thinks class is no longer “fun”. However, when doing this, don’t place too much emphasis on “fun” as the end all and be all of life; simply ask, “So what is it that you don’t like about class?” Here are some possibilities:

Your child may complain that some aspect of class is “too hard”. At Franz Karate, we do believe in training hard and training smart; we have never pretended that our classes would be easy. Anything worthwhile requires effort. How can your child be encouraged to learn and apply the valuable life lessons that will empower him to continue doing even what is difficult? Certainly no one wants to teach their child to be lazy or to shrink back from any sort of difficulty. Here is where you can really shine as a parent: “You’re right. It is hard. And what does Sensei say? That just means you need to try harder. And I’m going to help you do that, because I believe you are a winner. I know you can do this.” Be a problem solver. Find out if your child would benefit from open gym times, from private lessons, from extra attention in class, or from having your encouragement during practice at home. Be his or her hero. Help your child succeed.

Your child may not like grappling or sparring. Often this is because of fear, or as a result of a negative experience in the dojo. Help your child face those fears. A pep talk from Sensei may be all a student needs to begin learning to conquer this reluctance. Sometimes we need to work around specific situations in order to make sparring and grappling a better learning experience for your particular child. Let us know if you have concerns.

Your child may not be used to the structure and discipline of class and may resent having to do what he is told. I often tell my students, “I cannot teach you if you don’t listen to me.” Use this as another valuable life lesson for your child. Yes, some of the rules may not make sense to him or her, but each one is important. (Talk to me if you need to know the reasons behind any rules, so that you can help reinforce them at home.) Usually the children who most bristle at structure and discipline are the ones who need it the most.

Your child may have had to be corrected in class and may be so upset that he or she doesn’t want to return. It is all too easy, as a parent, to take the side of your child and to want to protect your child from any “fussing”. You may disagree with the consequences of your child’s behavior. It is important to discuss this with Sensei, so that you can understand why a particular situation was handled the way that it was. You may wish to offer your insights as to how to motivate your child to better behavior. Don’t allow your child to quit simply because he made a mistake or misbehaved in class, and now is “afraid to face Sensei”.

Your child may be having a conflict with another child in the class. It is important that we work this out together. Conflict resolution is a valuable lesson to learn; don’t deprive your child of this opportunity.

Your child may say, “I’m bored because I’m not learning anything new!” Some students at the intermediate level will feel this way because they prefer to be exposed to new material rather than to learn and master techniques that are already familiar to them. In our curriculum, techniques build upon each other. In order for a student to be ready to learn something new, it is important for him or her to be proficient in the material he or she is currently working on. Sometimes explaining this to your child will motivate him to practice harder in order to progress at a faster pace. Another approach to take is to give your child more learning opportunities outside of his/her core classes. Perhaps weapons classes might alleviate the boredom factor, or perhaps our child might enjoy learning extra sparring and grappling techniques in Kumite Class.

There are, of course, other reasons besides the “fun factor” that may make a child think about quitting.

Maybe your child is discouraged. Perhaps his/her progress seems slow to them. It may have been a while since he/she earned a stripe on his belt. Their next belt promotion may seem way off in the distance. Other students may even be passing him by. If this is the case, look at several factors:

Attendance. If your child is not in class regularly, his progress will be much slower than those students with good attendance. What can you do to improve your child’s attendance? (Sometimes you may not realize how many classes your child has missed. Ask Sensei!)

Practice at home. Does your child go over new material after class? Does he practice between classes? Open Gym. How often does your child attend?

Everyone progresses at a different rate, and some students need to train harder than others in order to achieve their goals. If you or your children are concerned about his or her progress, please talk to Sensei. Together we can work on a solution and teach your child how to succeed!

Maybe your child feels burned out. Be realistic: if a white or yellow belt student says he or she is “burned out”, the real problem is something else entirely. However, when an advanced student has been training diligently for over three years, and feels burned out, it is important to address this issue. It is all too easy to become “weary in well-doing”. Burn out is something every dedicated, hard working person will have to face during their life.

Some of the things that have helped other martial artists deal with feeling burned out:
Find some new challenges in training. This might be the time to get more serious about tournament competition. Perhaps it is time to learn a new weapon. Maybe this student would benefit from learning a supplemental kata, or self-defense that is not on the requirements — anything that will bring a fresh learning experience and foster new enthusiasm.

Goal setting. Focus on short range, medium range, and long range goals.

Creative training ideas. Maybe it’s the “same old, same old” that is causing burn out. Talk to Sensei about how to bring a new dynamic to your student’s solo training, so that class time will also be revitalized.

Martial arts seminars and special training sessions. Often outside teachers, or cross training, can bring fresh excitement to your child’s martial arts experience.

The Bottom Line

I honestly believe that the parents of my students want the best for their children, or they wouldn’t have them enrolled in our classes. I also know that almost every child will feel like quitting at some point or another. Tears may even flow. It will be hard for you not to listen to your child’s tale of woe and say, “Of course you can quit!”

I’m asking you to do the hard thing, the best thing. Be your child’s hero. Be strong. Encourage your child. Empower your child. Help him or her be a winner. Don’t allow him or her to miss out on the victory of perseverance. Let your child taste real success.

When the going gets tough, imagine this scene:

You are the special guest at a Black Belt Ceremony. It is a day you will never, ever forget. Neither will your young person. There he or she is, standing in front of you with a look of triumphant joy and accomplishment and strength that you have never seen before. After all the words are said, and the ceremony is over, you will be the first person to be hugged. Your young person will say, “Thank you! You earned this as much as I did!”

You will know exactly what those words mean. Your mind will be full of memories. No doubt some of them will be about when your child wanted to quit, but you taught him or her valuable life lessons that led to this moment. You never stopped believing in your child. You never gave up. You always believed this day, this accomplishment, would come. You worked together to make it happen. Your child achieved something that is beyond most people.

Your love and dedication helped bring your child all the way to black belt, and it will help bring your child many other successes and victories in the years to come.

It was all worth it. Sure, your child was the one who sweated and trained and worked and learned, who passed that difficult black belt test, but you were the wings beneath his or her wings. You taught your child life’s important lessons, and you taught well. You kept your child going. You didn’t let him or her quit. It’s not just your child’s victory and triumph; it’s yours as well.

You raised an over comer. A winner. Not a quitter.

Celebrate that day. Look forward to it. Work for it. When you and your child achieve that goal, it will be the first of many, many other successes, because you will have taught your child to work hard and persevere.

It will be worth it. Very much worth it.

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