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Earn Your Black Belt in Parenting

noun \ˈbau̇n-d(ə-)rē\
: something (such as a river, a fence, or an imaginary line) that shows where an area ends and another area begins
: a point or limit that indicates where two things become different
boundaries : unofficial rules about what should not be done : limits that define acceptable behavior

Sometimes I wonder where things come from, or why things happen. I don’t know if anyone has ever done a study of this or not, but after 35 years in the martial arts, both as a practitioner and as a teacher, I wonder what the correlation is between kids who are allowed to have little if any consequences for their bad behaviors and adult abusers and violence.

When kids are small, they throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. That is absolutely a natural thing. However, if they learn that throwing a tantrum gets them what they want, the bad behavior is reinforced with a reward and the tantrums continue and usually escalate until children think they are entitled, instead of children learning that they have to earn their way.

As an instructor, one of my philosophies for teaching has been to reward the behavior you want to see more of. But, we can’t ignore the negative behavior once it reaches a certain level. Kids want attention. Period. They want to be heard, to be seen- to be validated. That’s normal. When they can’t or don’t get the attention they crave from acting in a positive manner, they often resort to bad behavior if it gets them the attention they desire. Good attention or bad attention…is still attention.

I think there is a direct correlation between kids who grow up with little or no boundaries and adults who don’t respect boundaries. Or other people. Domestic violence, aggression, road rage and the like happens because somebody didn’t get their way. Someone wants to be in control and can’t handle when others don’t do things their way. Abusers often blame the victim. “You know what makes me mad” is a common excuse used by many abusers to justify their behavior. It’s someone else’s fault. Not taking personal responsibility for their thoughts and actions, it’s easier to blame someone else.

That immature perspective is rampant in adults who abuse others and violate the law. Same tantrum-just in a bigger, stronger, more dangerous package. When did it start? Probably very early on, I suspect.

Am I saying that if you don’t teach your kids proper boundaries and respect that they will grow up to be law breakers and abusers? Not all of them, but I imagine a much higher percentage of them will be.

The best thing parents can do for their kids is to set healthy, consistent boundaries. It’s good for the kids. It’s good for the adults they will eventually become. And, it’s good for the rest of society. Nobody wants to raise everyone else’s kids. If you make the decision to have them, it is your responsibility to raise them.

There’s plenty of help out there to assist parents in raising healthy, happy, respectful kids. I’ve worked with thousands of them over the years and seen the positive impact that boundaries have on children, teens and adults.

I truly believe the odds of raising a healthy, respectful, hard- working citizen are in the favor of those parents who set boundaries and stick with them.

As for the parents who recognize that they haven’t set proper boundaries for their children. Is it too late? The good news- no, it’s not too late. The bad news? The longer you wait, the harder it is.

Listen, everybody makes mistakes. We all do. But, learn from them. Grow from them. Don’t be held captive by them. Just because something was one way the day before, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever.

As a parent, I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I messed up. But, when you know better, you should do better. There were many a time when I looked into my daughter’s eyes and said, ‘we need to start over.’

Take a deep breath. Decide to decide. Just as much as changing a habit requires a conscious decision and conscious effort, not changing is a decision, too. NOT deciding is a decision.

It can be hard to change. Believe me, I know this for a fact. Been there, done that. It’s like when a kid touches a hot stove and burns their hand. They no longer have to take your word for it- they have experienced it. And, experience is the best teacher, after all.

I heard Tony Robbins say one time something like “good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

Do I think martial arts is a good vehicle for raising responsible, respectful kids? Absolutely. But, it’s only part of the equation. As an instructor, my job is to support the parents. I’ve seen so many kids who have made such phenomenal transformations through the consistent expectations, boundaries and guidance that a quality martial arts program has to offer, along with the same consistent boundaries and guidance of the parents.

That’s not to say that all the parents had the proper tools from the get go. Some did, some didn’t. Those that didn’t learned from those who were a few chapters ahead in the book of parenting. The same goes for teaching. My teaching style, along with many other instructors, has been molded over the years through trial and error. When you know better, you do better. Live and learn.

It’s easy to be an arm chair quarterback. Passing judgment from the sidelines is easy- and usually wrong. You never know what others are dealing with. Most parents have the best of intentions. They try and do everything they can for their kids. But, every kid is different. The parenting book that can be written for one child will probably have to be torn up and rewritten for each subsequent child along the way. It’s not easy.

We often tell our students that earning their black belt won’t be easy either. If it were easy, everyone would be a black belt. Usually, it’s a much smaller percentage of students who do reach that level. But, the definition of a black belt is simply this- it’s a white belt who never gave up.

Passion, patience and persistence will get you further down the road to success than any shortcut. And, earning your black belt is one of the most gratifying accomplishments one can make. It’s not just reaching the goal that is the reward, but who you become along the way that really matters.

I believe it’s the same with parenting. It’s a hard job. Not everybody is cut out for it. Some struggle the whole time, some even give up. But, the rewards far outweigh the struggle. Who you become as a parent is just as important as who you raise.

Earning a black belt in parenting is an awesome, hard and incredibly rewarding accomplishment. What rank are you?

Posted in Dojo Stuff

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