Misbehaving or sassy child?

 in Bradenton - Ancient Ways Martial Arts Academy

Try this:

As martial artists, we use redirection all the time with an opponent. I might throw my back-fist up high to get my opponent to raise his guard, then follow up with a cross to the body, an uppercut or a push kick. With students and our children, it should be the same way…without the violence of course.

As instructors we sometimes get a particular type of kid, he is referred to in the secret backrooms of the martial arts industry as…Mirror Lickers or sometimes, Butt Spinners. These are kids that are usually very young, about when we like to start them at age 3, but their focus and impulse control has not been installed yet. This is perfectly ok with us, we love being a part of the process for helping these kids with their focus and impulse control. We’re good at it. We use many tools to keep these kids engaged. Humor, fun drills, wild vocal inflections and focus anchors. A focus anchor is something that draws all students’ attention back to the instructor. Some of our favorites; “Focus Clap One” (They clap once) “Focus Clap Two” (They clap two times), etc., or “Eye’s on Who?” (the kids reply with “Eyes on you Sir.”). We also use the old tried and true, “Attention!” and all kids come to attention stance. We vary the focus anchors and use them frequently.

With my own kids, it sometimes has been helpful to do something similar. It’s more like a reminder that they may have missed what I just said. Let me give you an example. My son was really young and playing with our dog and we were about to go out. He was so engrossed in the dog that it hadn’t registered to him that I had just asked him to put his shoes on. My Focus anchor in this situation was me saying in a questioning voice, “Yes Sir?” He broke from his fuzzy mind, took a moment to calculate what he had missed, blinked and said, “Oh, yes sir.” I didn’t raise my voice or speak in a tough tone, just a gentle reminder that he had missed something. Then I follow up with “Thanks son, you rock.” He’s seventeen now and I still need this sometimes.

Another way to redirect in the dojo is to ask a student to help restack the hand pads (the ones I just knocked over on purpose). Kids love to help and this one is no longer licking the mirror, or whatever he was doing. When we’re done, I now have something to praise him for, helping me to restack the pads. If instead I had berated him, I would have been knocking his self-esteem in the opposite direction of where we want it. Many kids act out and do outrageous things to subconsciously get attention, even punishment. It’s not on purpose so scolding them isn’t going to work, nor is it helpful to fix the overall problem. Give them something to do that’s positive, then praise them for doing it and the next thing you know, they aren’t doing the negative things anymore.

When I worked in the psychiatric hospital as a Recreational Therapist, I would often be called onto one unit or another to help with an escalating patient. Most of these people are just like you and I, they are just going through a rough spot in life and need a little help. Some however, are dangerous and easily pushed into violence. No matter what, my first attempt at de-escalating a situation is to quickly start asking the patient some questions about themselves. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and everyone loves sincere interest from others. “Hey, what’s your favorite desert in the cafeteria tonight?” Now he isn’t thinking about how his doctor hasn’t been in to see him yet, or that he hasn’t been allowed his smoking break yet or even, that he’s somewhere he doesn’t want to be. He’s thinking about what he liked in the cafeteria. Then I start in on just verbally juggling back and forth with the patient, getting them out of their bad mood by showing interest in them. “Do you have a favorite movie? Tell me about it, let’s go sit in the quiet room together and talk about it.” Eventually we guide the conversation towards what’s troubling him and how we can help, but we get him calm first, build rapport and become his confidant and friend. Self-defense is not just about using violence. That did happen there…often, but seeking a peaceful path is always best.

A small child is, in a sense, a young animal, acting on instinct and has yet to learn how to control those instincts. If you put a cookie in front of a dog and tell him “NO,” unless he is very well trained and mature, he is going to eat that cookie. Kids are the same way. Their instincts tell them to explore, experience, touch, hear, see, make sounds, play and bang stuff together. When you correct their instinctive behavior, it creates this internal, emotional imbalance that makes them feel bad and think that “they” are bad. Now we have begun down the treacherous road of “Self-Loathing.” This is the opposite of what we want from our child. We want confident, empowered and strong. I’m not saying don’t provide challenges because that’s what my job is. I’m saying use those opportunities to redirect their behavior to do the right thing, then praise them for it, empowering them instead of humiliating them.

This works at any age, as I just illustrated. We sometimes forget as our kids grow up, and begin to communicate in a more adult manner, maybe even using a broader vocabulary and a bit of precociousness, that they are still kids. Teenagers want to be treated like adults, but they aren’t adults. Heck, most adults aren’t really adults. There are topics we don’t talk about, language we don’t use and particular tones of voice that should be avoided. Sometimes it’s not behavior we are redirecting, it’s topics of conversation that kids don’t need to be worrying about or discussing.

I hear you though, “But I get so angry, why doesn’t he just stop doing that! He knows better. I know that I should do these things, but I just lose it.” Yeah, we’ve all been there. Try and fail, try and fail, try and fail until you succeed. It’s called practice, and no one is good at anything on their first try, and usually even on their first 100 tries…of anything, even redirection. Keep trying and eventually you’ll be able to keep your cool, take a big breath and redirect.

I am to a point now where my kids will say, “Dad, I saw how you just redirected that kid, it was so smooth,” I smile knowingly, like I'm all cool, but I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

The next time Johnny or Jenny is acting up, instead of raising your voice, try redirecting them to something else and then praise them for how good their being. It’ll make you both feel better.

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