Within a couple years of parenting, we all quickly discover the uncomfortable reality that we must wrestle with the decision to push our child to do something or not. Again and again and again. While this post will not possibly address all the different situations you will encounter, I hope you will gain at least some insight into the decision making process as you read about how I chose to push and not push my youngest, who is in her last year of single digits, on her journey to earning a black belt in karate.
Being the youngest Neal, Anna had no choice but to be exposed to martial arts. Shortly after her three siblings started five and a half years ago, Anna announced she wanted to do it as well. Surprised, I nevertheless let her. Based on the fee structure at that time, she would be free since she was the fourth member of our family to participate. Why not let her have a go at it? At the start of her first class, she eagerly ran to her designated spot on the mat. However, as soon as the “towering” male standing in front of her instructed everyone to do star jumps, four-year-old Anna burst in to tears, bolted across the front of the whole class, down the far side of the mat, along the back of the parent section, and into the safety of my arms near the exit door. One more class was attempted when I gave a slight push, but she did not even make it on the mat that time. What would I have accomplished by pushing her anymore? Take away: it may be too soon for a young child to be required to participate in certain activities.
Almost two full years later, Anna finally had a compelling reason to overcome her fear and re-enter the mat when she was invited to a karate birthday party. Soon she mustered the courage to participate in Friday night family classes, which were mainly fun with very little actual martial arts. The next thing I knew, six-year-old Anna completely on her own decided to once again formally pursue martial arts. Take away: the right timing for something might be the future instead of the present.
Side note: I did push my thirdborn into starting karate. My three older kids all started at the same time, but my thirdborn was not that excited about the idea. Meanwhile, I was concerned about big, strong, aggressive brother knowing karate and little brother not being able to defend himself! So, I made the executive decision that he would start as well. I do not regret that decision at all. Take away: pushing a child or not depends on that specific child and his specific circumstances. Now back to my youngest.
Anna’s three-and-a-half-year journey from white belt orientation to the monumental testing has been quite a roller coaster. Immediately after starting, Anna declared she did not ever want to do the black belt testing. Great. We had attended one of these special testings already, and the environment was huge and overwhelming to her. Knowing her as I do, I wondered how she would ever overcome her fear and discomfort. The event was three years off in the distance though. Instead of focusing on the dreaded day, I pushed her to focus on the present training. Providentially, we actually ended up leaving our original karate school and following our head instructor to a new school he started. Consequently, her testing environment was completely the opposite as originally expected and perfect for her temperament. Take away: focus on pushing present wise choices over future potential obstacles. Who can tell what will happen down the road. #2020.
Speaking of 2020, when all that went down, our family trained on zoom. By this point, my husband and I had begun our own martial arts journey. While six people in a small home doing martial arts via zoom was fun and all, most of us were eager to return to in-person. Not my youngest. She was in her comfort zone. Yet she simultaneously started talking about quitting. Once again I had to wrestle with whether or not to push her. I spoke with the head instructor who encouraged me to not let her quit since she was only a year away from testing and to get her back to in-person classes. Reluctantly, I pushed her. Thankfully, her desire to continue increased. Take away: ask for someone else’s perspective who is qualified and knows your child and understands the situation.
The next challenge came when we officially moved to the new karate school building. We had spent a few transition months training in parks with all ranks together. Anna had loved being with her good friend, who was a lower rank than her. Once the new school was complete and she could no longer take class with her friend, she found herself one of the smallest kids in her new class by far. Soon she hated going to karate. Since I myself was now doing karate, I couldn’t blame her. I knew what it felt like to be up against people bigger and stronger. Something had to change. I could not in good conscience continue to drag her on this unpleasant journey. Also, I wanted her to have some self-motivation and not earn a black belt solely because she was being forced to. Once again, I spoke to the head instructor. Thankfully, he was willing to put my daughter in class with her good friend, which was a much better fit for her size and skill level. Reaching black belt would take longer as she stayed alongside her friend to reach it together, but the journey would be much more enjoyable. Take away: if your conscience says don’t push, don’t push. If necessary, think outside the box instead.
With just weeks left to testing, Anna’s good friend bowed out of the karate school. Anna would have to face the mountain of testing alone. I found out first and dreaded telling Anna doubting her willingness to test and knowing I would once again have to wrestle with pushing her or not. Many tears were shed upon learning the news, but then Anna found new motivation to push herself. I promised a gift if she passed. We looked online and found a special baby doll that she wanted. We printed out a picture of the doll, which she kept on her desk until testing. On the day of testing when she suffered a kick to the shoulder and started crying, I reminded her of the doll, which thankfully strengthened her resolve to continue. Minutes after receiving her black belt, we ordered the much anticipated doll. Take away: sometimes a “carrot” is all that is needed for the child to choose to push herself.
Frequently through the journey, I questioned if Anna’s day of black belt testing would ever come to fruition. It did. Both because I pushed her and I didn’t push her. Ultimately, Anna had to learn to push herself, which should truly be our goal as parents. Take away: discover what will help the child push herself.
Our children will greatly be shaped by our choices to push them or not to push them to do things. May you have wisdom and discernment for the struggles ahead. May you also enjoy some sweet days of victory when you witness your child doing a phenomenal job because they are pushing themselves in a way that you never ever could have. Anna surprised us all by her amazing performance at black belt testing. That was all her. Sure, many of us pushed her along the way, but none of us ever could have made her do what she did at that monumental testing. She pushed herself. As parents, that is our desire for our children.