"But I hate karate. I don't want to go." A flood of tears.
Right before his second karate class, my kid had a meltdown. The reason? He's terrified of his instructor.
Ten minutes into the first class, I knew we were going to have a problem. Sensai Rick is old school, strict and, on first meeting, not unlike the mean sensai from the originalKarate Kid. He's a drill sargeant and karate class felt more like boot camp than an empowering lesson in respect and discipline.
My other experience with karate was such a positive one. Canadian champion, Rob Tallack, has developed a fantastic, interactive home fitness program around karate that promotes the values I'd hoped Nate would get out of a class. We've done the DVD at home a bunch of times and love that there's an online element that reinforces and encourages kids to keep up the good work. Rob himself is a kind and generous person, the kind of person who has "role model" written all over him. Sensai Rick seemed like a bully in comparison.
But the truth is, kids these days are just not used to anyone speaking to them sternly. After fighting tears the entirety of the first class (mostly due to embarrassment: "He kept coming up to me to show me how to do it!"), Nate begged me not to return. "What are you going to do?" friends asked. Like always, I was kind of on the fence. While I didn't want to crush his soft soul, I hesitated to rescue him. For one, we'd paid for nine classes, and for two, I wasn't going to be able to protect him from bullies, mean and unpleasant people forever. Wasn't there a lesson to be learned here?
As my son cried in my arms, I dried his tears and told him what I'd decided. "Nate, I think you have a unique opportunity here to find the strength within yourself to get through situations like this in the future. The sensai isn't going to hurt you, you're in a safe environment and I'm in the room the entire time. But you have to find the courage inside to turn this into a positive."
Yeah, that sounds like "Mom of the Year" stuff, but he still cried, the whole way there, right up to the beginning of class.
Eight barefoot laps around the gym to help break down his mental barrier, followed by Sensai Rick sensing Nate's sensitivity (see a pattern here?) and assigning a slightly older blue belt to coach him...when class ended my son bounded toward me with a huge smile. The mom next to me gave me a good tip, which I dropped on him right away. "Do you notice when Sensai Rick sounds mean, he has a little bit of a smirk underneath? That's because he really loves kids, but doesn't want anyone to know. It's a secret."
Nate seemed to appreciate this. Then I took it one step further. "Let's go and give Sensai Rick a high-five and thank him for the class." Hesitantly, he approached the sensai and a meek "thank you" came out. What happened next was completely unexpected. Sensai Rick launched into a gentle verbal lesson about practicing until he got it right; about how it had taken him forever until he got the rolls down pat; and he made my son laugh. Sold.
"How was karate class?" his dad asked later that day. "Great!" exalted the soft city boy who'd just found his inner Ralph Macchio. "Phew!" thought the mom who took a guess at parenting and got it right for once.
Now if only I could work the same magic for swimming lessons.
Has your child ever begged to quit a class? How did you deal with it?