Kids love ninja classes at a SKILLZ child development center. The mix of age-specific martial arts themes and powerful child development lessons makes for a fun yet educational experience. Parents love ninja classes because of the results they see in their children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, and social growth while on the mat. But what happens when your child gives the instructor a high five and leaves the building after class? Do the lessons carry over?
Every experience a child has affects their development somehow. These subtle shifts in personality and ability will affect their growth for years to come. However, the right nurturing outside of the learning environment can supercharge your child’s training benefits.
Here are 3 Ninja Parenting tips you can use at home to help your child extend the lessons they learn in class to the rest of their lives.
- Labeled Praise
- Ask Questions
- Catch Them Being Good
Let’s look at each of these ideas, see how they work, and how you can implement them at home.
Imagine your child walks into the kitchen just before dinner. They see the cookie jar at the edge of the counter. Without a word, they push the cookie jar back. You respond with a smile and say, “Good boy!” This praise may confuse some children, especially younger kids who are still developing language function. Did you praise them for moving the jar? Was it for not stealing a cookie? Or because they put down the tablet and came into the kitchen to help? Maybe mom just loves me and has to say that.
By labeling the praise we give our children, we can encourage specific behaviors and character traits. There is a hierarchy to how effective praise is at prompting the desired results. For example, in the same scenario, if the parent had said, “Good job moving the cookie jar back so it didn’t fall,” the child would know why they were being praised. This type of praise focuses on the behavior, not the child. But, it may be hard for them to see other opportunities to receive similar recognition. After all, there is only one cookie jar, and it isn’t often perched on the edge of the counter.
The next level of labeled praise includes the use of character traits or core skills that are being exhibited. This is easy for families enrolled in a SKILLZ school as parents can use the same vocabulary and skills that we employ in class.
Again using the same scenario, this time, you might say something like, “Good job moving the cookie jar back so it didn’t fall. That shows me you are a person who is very observant/responsible/has good teamwork…” The label can be any relevant character trait you’d like to see more of. Eventually, this sort of labeled praise begins to help the child accept those labels as core parts of their self-identity. Because they see themselves as observant, responsible team players, they search for opportunities to show those traits.
Instead of waiting for a cookie jar, they will start to see everything that happens around them as a chance to tell the world who they are. This takes time and practice for parents and children alike, but the results are worth the effort.
One of the most basic needs of a child is that of connection. Many of the behaviors we perceive as “negative” are actually the child’s effort to build connection and solve a problem. Knowing this, we can leverage the child’s need for connection to encourage more positive behaviors. There are two ways we can use questioning to fulfill our child’s need for connection. One works by reinforcing the positive, and the second helps engage the decision-making centers of the child’s brain when they are overwhelmed by emotional or social pressures.
When a child leaves a SKILLZ class, they are happy, excited, and full of new knowledge. But, when dad asks, “How was class?” the response is usually one word. “Good.” If the child is a teen or preteen, it may even just be a grunt. Of course, we know that SKILLZ classes help kids build resiliency, develop courage, regulate intensity, and so much more! A more proactive approach to helping your child better communicate while also prompting further thought on what they’ve learned is to ask an open-ended question.
Instead of “How was class,” a question like, “What did you learn in class today?” might foster deeper conversations. But, we can take it to the next level.
A Super Ninja Parent might study ahead and learn a bit about which skill was taught in class that day. When the child comes out to the car, the Ninja Parent can harness the child’s excitement, build their confidence, and enhance connection by asking, “What can you teach me about (insert skill here)?”One of the best ways to reinforce learning is to provide opportunities to teach. When a child is asked to teach an adult, they feel validated, important, and connected.
But what if the behaviors we observe are not those we’d like to reinforce?
Sometimes, children struggle with making good decisions. Much of this is because they lack experience, and more of it is because the parts of their brains that control decision-making haven’t formed yet. This can cause anything from a tantrum to overly-exuberant play. When things get out of hand, asking the right question can help the child redirect themselves. It empowers them as part of the solution rather than blaming them as the cause.
In this case, asking a question that points out the behavior and helps them measure it against their own sense of right and wrong can be helpful. After pausing to build a connection, we can ask, “Do you think that hitting Johnny when he took your toy was a good idea or a bad idea?” Once the child can slow down enough to respond, the next question is, “What do you think would be a better way to handle it?”
By including the child in the problem solving, you not only help them overcome the immediate challenge, but you teach them the tools to do it for themself next time. Once this style of corrective questioning has been well established, the conversation can often be shortened into more of a prompt.
“Is that what you were supposed to do? Would you like to try again?”
By showing the child we trust them while subtly reinforcing the self-regulation skills they learn in their SKILLZ classes, we empower them to be problem-solvers.
Catch Them Being Good
Your child’s SKILLZ instructor is trained to keep 100% of their focus on the kids in their care. The entire environment within a SKILLZ school is crafted to assist with this singular focus.
However, at home, it can be challenging to maintain 100% of our focus on our children. There are chores to do, phone calls to make, dinners to prep, and a million other things pulling at a parent’s attention. Because of this, the things we tend to notice most often are the behaviors that upset the careful balance of responsibilities. Something breaks in the other room, and suddenly all of mom’s attention shifts to what happened. As parents, our focus is often turned to our children when we catch them being “bad.” Children need to be noticed as much when they are being good if we want them to be confident in life.
SKILLZ instructors practice calling out the child who has a fantastic self-defense technique or the child who is sitting with the best discipline. As parents, we can practice this too. Next time you see your child doing the right thing, even if it is something so mundane that it wouldn’t typically be noticed, acknowledge it.
“Wow, Katie! I love how focused you are on your homework!”
We all know how it feels to work hard and not be acknowledged. It is no different with children. As SKILLZ instructors, we know the power of this acknowledgment. It leverages the brain’s “happy chemicals” such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin to reinforce the neurology that dries the desired behaviors.
As parents, we have even more opportunities to build a better brain for our kids because we are involved in so many aspects of their lives. The key is to be active in our search for chances to catch our kids being good.
Over time, this mental exercise helps our kids seek out chances to do better. As a side benefit, continually searching for positivity can help the parents develop an even stronger mindset and a closer connection to their children.
A child enrolled in a SKILLZ school will learn many skills. And while martial arts themes help the kids connect with the lessons in a fun way that allows them to remember and apply what they’ve learned, an instructor is never a replacement for a proactive parent.
By working together as a support team for a child’s development, parents and instructors can provide a consistent set of expectations and learning tools for the child. When children have consistency, they can more easily fit themselves into our expectations. If this is something you would like more help with, reach out to your child’s teacher. They can help design and implement a plan to help with your child’s specific needs and abilities that you can use at home.
This plan may include some simple suggestions such as those listed above. Your SKILLZ instructor may also suggest a more cohesive parent training program, such as Parent SKILLZ.
You’re already a great parent of an awesome ninja. Our goal is to make your job easier and more enjoyable. Let us know which of these tips you try!
Author: Michael A Evans
Michael is a 6th-degree black sash under his teacher, Moises Arocho, and has been training in martial arts since 1985. Michael has a degree in Massage Therapy from the NY College of Health Professions. He is the co-owner of 4GK Martial Arts in Patchogue, NY, and SKILLZ of Patchogue, a childhood development facility using martial arts and other movement modalities as the vehicle for kids’ growth and success. Michael is also the COO for Skillz Worldwide and a Certified Pediatric Ninja Specialist.