WHAT IF MY CHILD WANTS TO QUIT?
What do you do when your child says that they want to quit training at Tristar? Do you allow them to quit? Do you force them to continue? What do you base your decision on? Their feelings? The values you want to instill in your child? What should a parent do in these situations?
I began training in the martial arts when I was 10 years old. I have been a professional martial arts instructor for the past 17 years. I have had many conversations with parents over the years about their children wanting to quit their training. Sometimes parents simply allow their child to stop, and we never see them again, which is unfortunate. In many cases parents approach me and we can often come up with a strategy to find out exactly what the issue is and then help the child through the challenge they were having to ensure a continued path to success. With a shared game plan, most situations can be resolved quite easily.
Motivation vs. Discipline
The first and most important factor for parents, and students, to understand is this: There is a big difference between motivation and discipline. The key to success in martial arts or anything else is understanding the difference.
There will always be highs and lows in any long-term pursuit. Human beings are emotional creatures with fluctuating moods. We all experience this in our daily activities and especially anything that requires a long-term commitment. Whether we are talking about fitness, a weight loss program, a marriage, a career, learning how to play an instrument, or learning self-defense – there will be highs and lows. You might feel completely motivated to start your diet on Monday but by Saturday night that ice cream from Jimmie Cone is looking REALLY good. You might not be motivated to maintain your diet…you might be REALLY motivated to eat that ice cream. What do you do? Do you quit your diet? The one you just started on Monday?
If you base your decisions on emotion and on what you are “motivated” to do from moment to moment, then you eat the ice cream. If your decisions are guided by discipline as opposed to momentary motivation – you stick to your guns despite your motivation at the moment, and you stay away from the diet-killing ice cream.
How many adults won’t go to the gym today (despite a New Year’s resolution, fully paid membership, etc.) because they “don’t feel like it?” Those who base their daily decisions on motivation won’t go. Those who base their decisions on their long-term goals will go despite their lack of motivation because they have the discipline to do it.
What Happens BEfore & After class…
The number one question I ask parents when they tell me that their child wants to quit is the following: Generally, what is your child’s mood IMMEDIATELY after they leave the dojo?
This is a critically important question! When the child leaves the dojo are they happy? Are they really bummed about the experience? Are they sad? Are they excited? Are they proud of the fact that they attended class that night?
Remember, we aren’t talking about any one particular class. Anyone can have a really bad night or a really awesome night at the dojo. The question is pertaining to the “average.” More often than not what is their mood as soon as they get out of class?
The honest answer to this question is one of the most important factors that parents need to consider when they are deciding whether they should allow their child to quit or not.
A child, or an adult for that matter, might hesitate to go to class. They might say, “I don’t want to go to Tristar tonight.” Sometimes it has nothing to do with not wanting to go to class but rather with not wanting to stop doing what they are doing right at that moment (video games, etc.). Sometimes they lack the motivation for one reason or another and will search for an excuse. This isn’t all that different from an adult who finds some excuse to not exercise (I’m tired from work…I don’t feel like going today, I’ll go tomorrow…I have so many things to do at the house…I’ll start again next week…I had a hard day at work). The point is that if we want an excuse, we’ll find one. All of us can find a “reason” to not do something we aren’t motivated to do at the moment. There is a part of all of us that looks for the easy way out. Our motivations do that to us. Motivation comes and goes but our discipline is what gets us through these ups and downs in motivation. After all, don’t many parents sign their kids up for martial arts to learn discipline in the first place?
But all of this is BEFORE we go to class. If the child goes to the dojo, despite their initial protest, and comes out happy, smiling, and proud that they went to class this would be one strong indication that they are actually benefiting and enjoying the dojo experience! Discipline is what keeps us steady. Discipline establishes the habits we need when our motivation tips to the low side.
The Instructors are here to help!
If the child is truly miserable every time they leave class, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the child should quit immediately. However, it is an indicator that a conversation with an instructor is needed to see if there are any adjustments that could be made in the child’s training. With a little bit of time, we can assess whether those changes have made a difference. If not, we might need to come to the conclusion that long-term martial arts training is not for them. Ideally, the parent will approach the instructor about their child’s mood and lack of interest BEFORE the student actually verbalizes wanting to quit. The longer the child has a negative mood the harder it is to reverse it. Awareness and prevention are key. Good communication between parents and instructors is key in maintaining a positive and growing martial arts lifestyle.
Think about this, we are on the same team!
Finally, one of the items that parents struggle with is, “I don’t want to FORCE my child to do anything they don’t want to do.” As a teacher and as a parent myself I can understand this feeling. I am not of the school of thought that says you should force the child to do something against their will no matter what. However, I’m also not a fan of building the type of character in a child that allows them to quit pursuing goals “just because” or because “I don’t feel like it.”
I ask parents who tell me they don’t want to “force” the child to do anything they don’t want to do the following questions: What if your child told you that they didn’t want to go to school anymore? What if your child told you they wanted to stop doing homework because they didn’t like it anymore?
Would you let them quit school? Would you allow them to never have to do their homework again? Probably not. The question then becomes, why not? For most parents, they won’t allow their children to quit things they find value in (school, perhaps church, a balanced diet, etc.). They will become resourceful (get a tutor, teacher-parent conference, etc.) in trying to fix the issue and not just allow their children to quit.
If you, as the parent, find value in your children’s education you are going to ensure they go to school and do their homework. You would certainly rather they be happy about going than not happy about going. But either way, you are going to make them go because you believe in the value of those activities as parents. The bottom line is that a parent will ensure that the child follows through because they see the BIGGER picture.
Parenting is tough. Do you decide day-to-day whether you are a parent or not? I’m sure that your motivation comes and goes. Sometimes you feel like the best parent in the world and other times you aren’t so motivated. But either way, you have the commitment and the discipline to be a parent. You don’t get to make that decision on a day-to-day basis. It is a long-term commitment with highs and lows in motivation. Being a martial artist is the same way. You either are a martial artist or you’re not. You don’t make the decision on a whim from day to day. You aren’t a martial artist only when you put on your uniform. Your child needs you to help forge their character. They don’t have the big picture, the long view, in their mind. They don’t have that life experience. Help them learn the difference between motivation and discipline. More often than not that means getting them to the dojo. We’re here to help. We are on the same team.