Sometimes a confident and self-assured preschooler will meet grade school and find that many of the lessons learned there have been forgotten by older kids. Likewise many students making the transition from elementary to middle school find the rules that they once understood change yet again. Bullying is a factor in development at all ages, and while a recent Department of Education study shows that there is a decline in bullying, the numbers are still shocking. Students from 12 to 18 years of age reported that 22 percent are bullied at school. While this is a drop from 28 percent, it makes very little difference to the children who must face this every day.
Professionals such as teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators can intervene, but very little is done to help the child who has been bullied. The focus is in general on stopping the bullying, and can paradoxically lead to the child being ostracized, or being bullied by other children. They often feel helpless, alone, traumatized, anxious, and depressed.
Moreover, kids do not report being bullied when it happens, they may even be afraid to report it. The long-term effects of bullying can be devastating, causing one in 10 kids to drop out of school. While I am not minimizing the value of psychotherapy, or professional intervention, I do advocate vigorously for children to learn martial arts. There are reasons that children thrive in the atmosphere of a dojo, and the reasons are documented even by such institutions of higher learning as West Point.
Kids, even those who are struggling with a bullying situation, can thrive with martial arts. Yes, physical fitness is important, but it is the emotional and mental factors that can help the most.
● Self-Confidence: Appropriate confidence levels are desperately important. A child’s development and future in the world depends on them having the confidence to execute behaviors such as going to school, raising their hands in class, and even doing homework. People with self-confidence are more relaxed, and feel more positive emotions, which allow them to be relaxed and calm in high stress situations.
● Self-Discipline: Martial arts helps develop the self-discipline that children need to succeed. By working their way through the belt system they understand that nothing comes easy, and when you’re learning there is a definite process for everything. Self-control is consistently and positively reinforced and rewarded.
● Realistic Goals: The belt system and the nature of friendship in the organization shows that goals are realistic, attainable, and that skills can be learned. There is very little that can replicate the pride of achievement and attainment.
● Self-Respect: self-respect simply means that you know that you are behaving with honor, dignity, and pride in yourself. Self-respect is instrumental in keeping children aware of their value as human beings and helping them to avoid toxic situations and relationships.
● Communication Skills: Communication isn’t just using your ears or mouth – or your thumbs when you’re texting – but a set of quantifiable skills. Teaching and learning within a martial arts framework requires excellent skills in communication on the part of the instructor, who then teaches them to the younger protégés. Communication skills are very much learn by doing, and comprise more than just talking and listening.
I sincerely hope that your child has not been bullied, and that they never are. It doesn’t build character; if anything it actively harms character development in children. If they have been bullied, I hope that you will consider allowing them to experience the martial arts as a healing and instructional experience.