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I have a 5-year-old son. He started Tae Kwon Do lessons one and a half months ago. At first he was reluctant and cried in the first class, but after a few weeks, he was very happy with himself.

His coach is happy too, and took us on the side and asked us to bring him to another class with older classmates, in which only my son and another boy had white belts. The rest were more experienced. The coach chose only two classmates from his young ones, to skip level, one of who was my boy. He asked about his age and was a bit reluctant when I told him he was born in June, 2010. He said that because he is very good, he should try this new class. The first class was yesterday.

My boy came out of it twice in tears. He said that it is difficult. That the coach brought him in his arms back in class. Last night we talked about it, I encouraged him, and he said that he will continue with it. Today he refuses and wants to go to his old class. Should I pressure him?

The funny thing is that though he cried, he told me to ask the coach when will it be time for his blue belt (he does not even have half yellow!). He is very intrigued about the belts, and the activity itself has already helped him with an aggressive boy at school, so it boosted his self-esteem, but I am not sure how to handle this. We started this as a means to protect himself at kindergarten, and to have some exercise. The coach sees something more in him.

Should I go along with the coach?

My husband suggests to go along with the boy. Would it help or hinder?

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Tae-kwon-do had a huge impact on my boy, from his daily encounters with aggressive kids at school, to his daily play with his mates. He is more assertive now, than ever, and stands his ground, firmly. I would hate to wreck that with the wrong decision. – salaxi Jan 19 at 11:10
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@salaxi - You might get better feedback from the Parenting stack exchange. The archives there have a good discussion on appropriate age to start martial arts parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/1425/… and any number of questions dealing with crying. – Doug B Jan 19 at 12:37
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In addition to Mike P's answer, I would expand the talking to the coach and your son about it.

The coach should be able to give you advice and tailor his teaching of your son so that he feels better. It's his role after all. I would do this before the session so he has time to prepare and it does not come as a shock. Forewarned is best!

Your son should have a say in the matter as well! Ask him. Show him all the options, including comparing this hardship to some trials of his heroes which ever those are, I am sure he has some whether it's Superman or Captain America, or whomever. While he is very young, allowing him to see how to make decisions about his life should serve him well in the future.

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Correct on the timing with the coach. I thing I will go alone today to find him. On your other suggestion, I could not agree more, Sardathrion! That was the way I was thinking to go about it. My son loves Superman, and I was thinking to try something like "we all like not to struggle, but there are heros among us who try more than others, like Superman!". And, though I am worried about pressuring too much his young little soul, that was exactly the message I want to give him about life choices. Thank you very much. – salaxi Jan 19 at 14:40
    
In the first paragraph, is "expend" the right word? Do you mean "extend" or "expand" or "spend time"? – Mike P Jan 21 at 9:16
    
Good point about the heroes, though! – Mike P Jan 21 at 9:17
    
@MikeP: ^_~ one tiny letter, spell checker is happy, and the meaning is utterly wrong! Thank you for spotting it. – Sardathrion Jan 21 at 9:41
    
@MikeP: Were you to paraphrase what I wrote in your answer, I'd be happy to delete this one as really it is a long addendum to yours. I would not presume to add it to your answer since you might not agree with it. – Sardathrion Jan 21 at 9:42

It's a delicate balancing act; if you don't push and encourage your son, he might not achieve his full potential. If you do push and encourage him, you may end up putting him off martial arts altogether (which is obviously a bad thing, but perhaps even more so for you and your son!)

Could your son attend both lessons? That way he would have one class where he feels very comfortable and the other class where he is out of his comfort zone. You'll need to check this with your son's instructor.

Failing that, I would advocate letting him return to the less challenging class for a period of time (say 2 - 3 weeks); after that period, he could try the more challenging class again. You should discuss this with both your son and his instructor to make sure you all know the plan.

If these ideas don't work and your son does stop training, it isn't a failure; taekwondo has already had a positive impact on your son's life!

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Right to the point, Mike P. You can clearly see through my dilemma. Thank you for your time. My son' s instructor has a really good way with kids. I will seek for his help. Maybe the way to go is what you suggest. Thank you again. – salaxi Jan 19 at 12:43

I'm a 5th Dan in Karate and have been teaching for about 20 years. My advice would be to let him work at his own pace. Martial Arts are a journey, they take a lifetime to master. He has plenty of time to learn and shouldn't be pressured or forced to learn at a pace that is not his own. If you want him to stick with it, then it has to be something he enjoys. That knowledge is something that you own, it's a part of you and a prism for seeing the world through. It's strength and confidence but it's also knowing your faults and understanding your deficiencies. It's best to foster a love and comfortably with it at 5 years old. Making it stressful or putting expectations of advancement will, in all honesty, taint the experience and build resentment towards the art.

Did he mention why he didn't like the new class? Was it purely difficulty? If so I'd remember that he is only 5. Keep it fun and comfortable for him, believe it or not but being the best person in your class is pretty darn fun. It also allows him to learn another important thing that martial arts teaches: how to mentor others. Usually the best students in class are tapped to be leaders and help teach. This is an invaluable skill as it helps in so many areas (public speaking, confidence, understanding your own learning process and applying it to others, etc).

That's my advice at least. I've also seen kids shoot up through belt rankings because of ability and the belts begin to lose meaning (when in reality they don't mean a whole lot other than a few important steps). If he is fascinated with earning belts I can tell you that moving through them too fast will cheapen their value as well. Ideally he'll come to realize they aren't important about the same time he realizes how important the knowledge is.

Anyway, I'd like to wish your son the best on his journey and hope that he continues to love it and grow with it. Black Belts are fairly rare, and Black Belts over 1st Dan are rarer still. Being part of that brotherhood is great, but the knowledge and perspective you gain are greater still.

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He said that it was difficult. My boy changed his mind three times about which class to go to. Finally he chose the old class. But I can honestly relate to the coach for chosing him. He has too much dynamic for the old class, he can' t stand still and wait for his turn for a new set of kicks. I talked to the coach and he said to not apply any kind of pressure at all (I even asked him, if I should tell my boy that the coach will only let him go for half a yellow belt, IF he goes with the older boys to train with). "It will backfire", he said. He said that my boy will come around on his own. – salaxi Jan 20 at 18:59
    
Sounds like he has a good teacher. He may be fine with your son not being able to stand still. When I was new to teaching one of the things my teacher told me was to "let kids be kids". A 5 year old not standing still shouldn't be a big deal, unless it's lining up to begin or end a class. That's how most instructors ease kids into discipline. They can be kids except at certain well defined times. As they age those times grow larger. I'm glad he was able to come to a decision and that his teacher is understanding. All very good signs in building a solid love for the martial arts. – Jake Hargus Jan 22 at 20:54

I am a 3rd Dan black belt in Taekwondo. I've taught classes, as well as fought (and medaled) at an international level. When I was in second grade, I was asked to try out for our elite team. I came out of the session in tears about 5 minutes before it ended, and my giving up disqualified me from the team, so I definitely feel a kindred spirit here. My coach "saw something more in me", and he was right! But just because that talent doesn't manifest itsself right away doesn't mean that there isn't time to develop it later!

I would trust the coach, but definitely relay your concerns. There are probably some intermediate steps that can be taken. For instance, consider attending each class half of the time.

Some of your concerns are pretty well founded, others not so much, but with experience comes knowledge.

The class (made up of 20 boys and girls) seemed detuned because of the new arrivals.

This will happen regardless, and isn't reflective on your son whatsoever. Don't worry about this. You can't expect kids who have been training for years, and someone with a white belt to be on the same level. To be completely frank, he was slowing them down. But remember, at some point they slowed the class down too. Them laughing is a different matter, however. Good natured encouragement and destructive belittling are two entirely different things, and the instructor needs to be proactive in maintaining a positive classroom environment. Probably harmless, but still can't hurt to be on the lookout.

My husband suggests to go along with the boy. Would it help or hinder?

If your school has one-way glass or some similar mechanism like CCTV, ignore this paragraph and go. Your impression is valuable here. In my experience as an instructor, yes. Without knowing your child, I have no idea of ascertaining whether or not he's the type to be distracted by you, try harder because you're watching, or just ignore you. You might not get an honest idea of what the class is generally like for him your presence produces a change. Or it might be the stimulus he needs to put forth extra effort and discover he truly enjoys it. Either way, my suggestion is to wait a few minutes before walking in, (so he's focused on the class and less likely to notice you). Don't let him get distracted by you, if he does, leave. It sets a precedent and reinforces lessons on self-control and focus.

Overall, don't get discouraged. He has until he's 12 before the competitive divisions start, and that's assuming he even decides to do sparring. There is time to make these decisions. Everything else being equal, stick to the 50-50 schedule or just attend the easier class. People will tell you that few make it to black belt, and as a student who's just starting out, enjoyment is critical. Don't jeopardize benefits for advanced training that's wasted on a white belt. This is a huge opportunity and I encourage him to go for it, but it will be there in a few months when he's learned some more and wears a different color.

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My guess would be that there is some other child in the higher grade class who is bullying your son for not being a blue belt. I would suggest asking the coach permission to observe a class. I might be wrong but there is not normally a problem with this.

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During class, I saw his classmates getting squeezed behind my boy, like he is slowing them down (a tall boy was laughing at my boy). The class (made up of 20 boys and girls) seemed detuned because of the new arrivals. There is no blue-belt in our new class. When the class finished, the next one started. My boy saw in it some even older boys with blue belts, wearing the gear for punches. He got very intrigued by that! That was where the blue-belt question came from. He is definetely interested in Tae Kwon Do, I just hope we come up with the correct rhythm and timing for him. – salaxi Jan 19 at 16:07

I am a 2nd Dan (black belt). In my experience there are lots of schools, lots of instructors and lots of classes. All are different. Finding the right class that is at the right pace for your son is important. I practice TKD as an individual sport where I am only competing against myself so my practice would not suited for younger learners. My instructor runs a pre TKD class for learners as young as your son because five year olds are for the most part just trying to have fun while building self confidence and learning to control their movements. They are probably not ready for the self discipline that it takes to master TKD. Also consider joining class yourself.

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Good point about the pre-TKD class; my organisation has a special syllabus for 4 - 7 year old children that is separate from the main TKD syllabus. – Mike P Jan 22 at 9:26

That's a really cute story. I think every child needs a healthy mix of nature and nurture. The last thing a child needs is to be babied, but even worse is to be forced/pressured into doing too much. Just make sure he's having fun in the end!! He's probably crying because he's just... a competitive little guy who's curious!! If he ever wants to quit, give him a reason like "well, what about your classmates? Your friends? You don't want to let them down, right!? Remember (X cute kid's name here) in martial arts you need to be brave right!". He has to remember everyone is on his side. The thing a child NEEDS to know is that people are on his side!! Good luck!! Future world champion!

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