As parents we have those moments mixed with choking back proud tears, joyful hope and expectation, worry, concern, doubt, and laughter when our youngsters give something new a try for the first time. We watch as their uncoordinated bodies bounce around next to their peers, a few years older who have had time to reign in a bit of discipline and control over their actions and emotions. Their expressions vary from terrified and nervous, shy and crumpling with tears. If they manage to make it through their first class, or even halfway, those looks of fear merge into excitement, curiosity and wonder. As they learn their first skill or two and manage to do it in their all out effort, which to the rest of us looks not even close to doing the move right, you can see glimpses of self-belief and confidence overcome the nerves.
We applaud and cheer and over congratulate their efforts, their ability to try something new and different. We commend them by confirming how brave and courageous and good they are (oh what a lie lol). We hope they had a little fun, we want them to want to go back. We know how good the sport will be for their young minds and bodies. We know how much we need the help in teaching them discipline and how to be still for more than two seconds! (Coaches of young kids need paid more!) We beg for mercy that they will fall in love with that sport that will burn off a morsel of his/her endless energy.
A year ago we had our oldest give a taekwondo class a try. He is big for his age and can’t sit still and was so shy. I am a martial artist myself, so I know the benefits of what taekwondo can do for developing confidence and learning to move and control the body. Martial arts is one of the few sports that is truly centered upon building character.
Bless that instructor’s heart. A big jolly guy (excellent instructor by the way) with a big booming voice nearly scared our boy to pieces, unintentionally. Our little big guy burst into tears within a couple minutes and that was the end of that.
A few months later our little dude ventured into soccer, also nervous, shy and scared. He fell in love with it though! And made some new friends in our new town. He can’t wait for the season to start again. Maybe it helped his hero was his coach (daddy). In those short few weeks he lost a good chunk of that shyness and even picked up a few skills (still so unbelievably uncoordinated and cute).
Last night, after researching local dojos for a while and considering the drive and time it takes to get to our closest city, we decided to give a local small town taekwondo school a try. Our son has become obsessed with power rangers. Oh you can believe it, I have so hinted that if he does taekwondo he will learn some cool power ranger moves. Whatever it takes to help your kid try something new that will be so beneficial to him.
There were maybe ten kids in this class. The instructor was nice, in fact, it was immediately noticeable that the kids loved being there and he made it fun. We even knew one of the kids.
And there was our dear child, a complete nervous wreck but he tried. For the first half of class he listened to the kid helping him out, he watched the others and he joined right in on the kicking drills. He made it halfway through class before those dreaded tears hit.
Now is when you realize what kind of parent you are – when the tears arrive. Me the martial artist, also quiet and sometimes timid, telling our son he is just fine and that is going to stick out the whole class. And my husband, the ironman triathlete who pushes the limits for hours at a time – telling our son it’s ok to just sit out and watch.
This is why we both went to the class. Because kids need both kinds of parenting. They need parents they trust to acknowledge their fears and doubts, and also to push them, to help them realize than can indeed do what is before them and that both parents are right there supporting them.
So our son sat out for a while and watched those bigger kids do their awesome kicks and punches. And the tears dried.
Then in this particular class the instructor announced it was time for the obstacle course. Big mats came out, punching bags and kicking paddles and a timer. If you could see the look of excitement in our boy’s eyes! Daddy told him it was just like playing Olympics in the living room (you bet that’s the kind of mom I am – bring it on Living Room Olympics) and our son jumped right up and took his place in line. He ran that course the way any five year old would. He crawled through the tunnel with ease (smallest one there) and then dashed around the tented mats (too short to jump over like the others), ran to the instructor and did his best attempt at kicking the paddle and high fived the next kid in line.
To my martial arts momma’s heart, he said more than once he wants to go back!
I write this post because if you are a parent, these moments of triumph over the new and unknown are so important. How we set the example for our children in facing fears and trying new things ourselves (as adults) directly impacts our children and how they learn to deal with things and situations that are new and scary to them. We can step back in fear and doubt, or step forward in excitement and embrace the opportunity before us.
I also write this because having been athletes our whole lives, my husband and I value the character of our children’s coaches/instructors. Especially when kids are young, but also when they are older and wanting to try a new sport or a new team. The way a coach welcomes a newbie to the practice and environment will directly impact that child, it will determine if they step back in fear or step forward with courage.
I don’t have any idea if either of our kids will stick with taekwondo, soccer or swimming. But we encourage them to try, we teach them to finish what they start, we show them it is okay to be scared, we show them how to find courage to do something they haven’t done before.
It is these kind of moments as a parent, when you witness your child emerge a little more courageous, a little more excited (about something other than power rangers and legos), and eager to participate in something that you know will be so good for them, that make those rough parenting days better. When your child looks over the shoulder at you and smiles right before they take off for a jumping kick that makes your heart swell with pride and joy.
*As an athlete, mom and also a martial artist – I think it is so important to find coaches who are all about building the character and skill development for their athletes and not focused on winning (or in the case of taekwondo how fast can a kid get a black belt). I don’t care if it takes four years or ten for my child to earn a black belt (or equivalent level in whatever sport they are in). I want my kids to learn real life skills and values, and techniques in how to learn better and overcome challenges. I want the athletic arena my kids are in to be about building friendships and learning to be a teammate. I want the coaches teaching about having the right mindset. Your child can be an ace in their sport at a very young age – but part of becoming successful and maintaining it – is having maturity and life experience and that can only come with time.
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