I recently started my three and a half year old at karate, because he had a great time at a bring a friend day.

I feel that I have an active child, but he seems to be no more active than other little boys his age. His class is for 3 to 5-year-olds. Today in class the instructor had to speak to him several times about playing. The second time he spoke to my child he gave him a choice of sitting out on the side or saying that he would not play again. My child agreed not to do it again. But, as some 3-year-olds do, he forgot pretty quickly. The third time he took his belt away. My child cried just a little bit and wiped his tears away. He looked at me in sadness to tell me his belt was taken away. It was hard to watch. I would have preferred for him to maybe sit out a few minutes instead of having his belt removed. The instructor said that he could earn it back next time, which will be next week.

We have had a different instructor teach the class before as a sub and there was a difference between their teaching styles. The substitute instructor did a great job of keeping the kids active throughout the entire class. Today's instructor had a lot more down time.

What I'm really trying to determine here is if the expectations and consequences for behavior are developmentally appropriate for this age. And I'm also waiting for your advises about whether or not to continue karate classes versus trying other sports at this time in his life.

I know I could shop around for other centers or work with the other instructor. But I'm also considering other sports that may have more activity and less downtime. But if anyone out there can tell me what appropriate expectations and consequences might be for behavior for an almost 4-year-old in karate classes, I would really appreciate it. I would love to know some specifics about what you would expect during a 30-minute period in the way of self-control and activity. Thanks

A quick update: my husband took our son to class today and he earned his belt back. My husband did get a minute to touch base with the instructor to get his assessment on how our kiddo is doing, and he said he's doing as expected for his age. Thank you everyone for sharing your experience and insight. It helped me understand everything better.

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    It is always - and especially at this age - all about the instructor, not the style. Children at this age need constant activity and dragging of their attention or they will eventually do something which the instructor does not like. Other ways work for some, especially in cultures where other ethics are prevalent (ever seen Japanese children training at that age? It's insane(ly intense) and impossible in western society). From your description, this instructor should not work with very young children. I write this as a comment since I am afraid that single case questions are a bad fit here. Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 9:54
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    @PhilipKlöcking - Actually, if you expanded it slightly that would make for a good answer.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 14:12
  • @Lemmyx This was about my child's white belt. My child had it taken away for misbehavior and earned it back in another class session. Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


I'll answer this question from the perspective of a dad and a former martial arts instructor.

Your kid is like a lot of other kids it sounds like. It's normal at this age (3 years old) for kids to not be able to concentrate and do what they're told for extended periods of time. A good teacher has to be able to get the kids interested in what he/she is doing. They need to make it fun. They can't spend too much time on any one thing, or else the kids will get bored. And they can't expect kids to pay attention perfectly. They have to go into it knowing that kids at this age are just trying to have fun, and if they can get one or two kids to be able to do what they're being shown every now and then, that's a success. Their expectations must be pretty low.

That being said, it sounds to me like your kid's karate instructor did the right thing. Actually, he was probably a little light if all he did was remove your kid's belt. The best thing he could have done would have been to take your child off the floor and have him sit it out on the side - with you, of course, not alone. My guess is he was being nice and reserving that for the future.

The other thing to note is that the instructor did this right away in the first class. If he avoided it until several classes had gone by, your child would have been confused, because this was inconsistent with all of the other times your child was not disciplined. And that would have made it harder for your child to learn. The fact that the instructor did this right away is a point in his favor.

Your child had a typical reaction, which was to be upset and cry. From this, he'll learn that if he disobeys the instructor again, the same thing will happen, or worse.

Kids at this age don't understand the boundaries and what they can and can not do. So they test. They goof off. You can tell them not to do stuff, but you can't reason with them at this age. That's not going to be very effective. Instead, it takes some kind of disciplinary action to get them to realize there are consequences to bad behavior. Actions are a lot more effective than words.

We do a disservice to children by not giving them proper boundaries. That goes for parents and for teachers. In most martial arts classes teaching children, you're going to see some really bad behavior going on with the kids. They're going to be goofing off, playing with other kids, talking while the instructor is talking, running around the class, etc.

What are the teachers doing? If you watch any of these kinds of classes, you'll commonly see the same thing. The teachers are ignoring the kids that aren't paying attention, and they only care about the kids that are giving them attention. They tell the misbehaving kids to not misbehave, but those kids just laugh and keep misbehaving. And the cycle continues.

This is generally how teachers cope with it. They know parents don't want their kids to be "disciplined". Parents want their kids to have a good time. They don't want it to be "too serious". But let me ask you, if your kid is one of the ones misbehaving, aren't you upset that the teacher isn't giving them any attention? Aren't you upset they're not improving? You should be.

And by "improving", I don't mean at karate. I think expecting a 3 year old to be improving at karate is misguided. Instead, improving in this context means being able to follow along in class with the rest of the students and to keep his attention on the teacher. That's going to pay off in all aspects of his life, especially academics later on.

So you need to be on-board with the teacher disciplining your child when it is necessary. Otherwise don't pretend it's anything but a babysitting class. Because, they're getting nothing out of it otherwise. They're not improving.

This idea extends into parenting as well. In fact, it starts and ends at home with the parents. Parents that do not tell their kids "No" a lot and frequently are doing a disservice to their kids. They need to set those boundaries, and the way to do that isn't by talking and hoping their kids will eventually get better. The way to do it is by taking their children out of the situation forcefully if they're not obeying right away. They need to make sure their kids know that if they don't obey without delay, there will be consequences.

Let me give you an example from my life as a dad. My 4 year old daughter and I drove to a nearby park to play. I parked the car and told her to put on her coat, because it was too cold outside to be without it. She refused. I told her that she had to, because it was too cold. She said no again. Rather than argue with her about it, as I did in the past without success, I said, "Okay then. No park today." And I quickly drove back home.

In the car, she said "okay", she would put her coat on. But it was too late. It wasn't about the coat, but about her refusing to do what she was told. So I kept driving home. And she cried some more. It hurt me, too, because I love her to death. But this is what a real parent has to do. Actions speak louder than words. Knowing there are consequences to bad behavior is really important for young children ages 2 and up. It establishes boundaries and guides them towards making better choices in life.

The other thing I do when my daughter misbehaves is I tell her what I saw her do from my perspective and how it made me feel, and how it made others feel. We have a conversation about it when some time has passed and she's not too upset anymore. Being able to see things from someone else's perspective is a huge part of their development. It helps them figure out what went wrong. Otherwise it can seem pretty arbitrary and trivial to them, which just makes them angry and resentful.

And keep loving your child. Changing your parenting style does not change how often you hug and kiss your kid and tell him how much you love him. Keep doing that. He's going to hate you and cry after you discipline him, but it will be short lived. And you should always tell him you love him, even as you're disciplining.

And by the way, I don't recommend spanking or hitting your child, either. That's not what I mean by disciplinary action. Spanking just breaks his trust of you and creates hatred and resentment. It drives him away from you. That's not what you want. You want open lines of communication. You want him to go to you and tell you things without fear. You want him to feel comfortable enough around you to express his feelings. Spanking will poison all of that.

Anyway, getting back to the incident with the karate instructor, once again I think what he did was the right thing to do. The fact that he did this immediately on day one helps, also. Without proper boundaries, your kid probably will not improve. And that goes for parenting and for regular academic classes as well.

Hope that helps.

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    thank you so much for your advice, it does help! Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 1:23
  • A quick update: my husband took our son to class today and he earned his belt back. My husband did get a minute to touch base with the instructor to get his assessment on how our kiddo is doing, and he said he's doing as expected for his age. Thank you everyone for sharing your experience and insight. It helped me understand everything better. Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 1:30
  • @Newuser1977 Glad to hear it. It sounds like your kid's instructor probably does this all the time with new kids this age. This is the only way to really get kids to follow along and pay attention. Without that kind of discipline right at the beginning, the kids would have been just all over the place, not paying attention and goofing off. It's rare to find an instructor who has that worked out. So many are in it just for the money and wouldn't dare do anything to make parents upset and lose a student. Good luck! Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 3:16

I'd like to preface anything that I say with the caveat that we are not present in your school, and we don't know the policy of the head instructor/school owner when it comes to things like taking away belts and other disciplinary actions. I am also speaking as a high ranking black belt, and a father of two boys (5 1/2 and 4 years old) that are in classes as well (I don't teach them).

Class management for this age is hard, as they have a limited attention span, and like to move from activity to activity with little down time. However, this is also a great age to start teaching and managing expectations. Our classes have them starting out by sitting on their dots, from whenever they get in class until it starts. There is a monitoring instructor/helper assisting in managing this, with gentle reminders and encouragement.

Classes have some downtime, and there are points where they are expected to sit for a minute or two while another group/child demonstrates something. And, kids being kids, this doesn't always go smooth. The discipline escalates from gentle reminders, to having to sit to the side of the class, or (and we are lucky in that we have a lot of staff/assistants) an instructor sitting with them being an example. I can think of only a couple instances in the last couple of years where anyone has had a belt taken away. We also give out attitude slips for kids that are doing the things they should when they should.

I don't think it is unreasonable to ask a child in this age group to be able to pay attention or sit quietly through a 30 minute class (Heh, my kids would sit all day watching Wild Kratts if I let them). The trick is to make it enjoyable for them, even when they are sitting, and to manage it so that there is not much down/sitting time as can be arranged.

It does sound like the instructor needs a little more practice managing time, and/or doesn't quite know how to reinforce correct behavior. I (personally) don't like taking away a belt, especially from a new student, as much of their martial arts identity is tied up (no pun intended) in that belt. You take it away, you take away their identity essentially. However, if that is a consequence that is explained to them ahead of time, it's a little easier to manage.

What is very important, is how YOU handle this as well. I would not put any blame on the instructor. Yes, he may have been preemptive or arbitrary, but it was the behavior of your boy that prompted it. Be understanding, but also make it clear that it was HIS choices and HIS actions that caused the belt to be taken away, but it's also HIS actions that can earn it back. Kids that age are exploring and trying to exert their own control over things ("NO!", "I do it", "I wanna do that"), so letting him know that he can control this himself will be a big boost.

Be supportive, ride the inevitable rocky patches at the beginning, and if you have concerns, ask to speak privately with the head instructor or school owner. Explain your concerns and listen to what they have to say. This may be normal discipline progression at the school.

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    Thank you so much! That gives me a lot more insight. I'm working with my son on understanding the expectations to earn his belt back so he will be prepared the next time we go. I plan to give him opportunities before class to get the "wiggles out" or burn off extra energy. His misbehavior in class is making faces in the mirror, playing with his weapon when he should be watching, trying to touch items in the room (if he gets too close while doing the forms or routines (I'm not sure of the correct terminology yet) being distracted by noise on the sideline. He also talks too much. Any advice? Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 17:01
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    @Newuser1977 - Honestly, at this stage, I wouldn't worry too much about black belt. That's a more nebulous goal, and they may not understand that there are many belts between then and now. Encourage the next belt and small steps for goals at first. Be aware its there, but not the primary focus. As for wanting to touch everything, play with stuff, that's also normal because it's all "new". Once it becomes routine, it becomes much less interesting. Similar with chatter, and once he gets accustomed and sees his peer group acting in a certain way, it will be easier for him to behave.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 18:00
  • Oh I'm sorry let me clarify. I'm working with him to get his white belt that was taken away the other day back. I have not had any conversations with him about belt testing or the next level. We are so new that we didn't sign up for the last belt testing because he had only been there a few times. Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 18:12
  • Thank you for the encouragement. I've already seen growth with him just in chiming in with the tiny tiger oath and following along with what everybody's doing! The majority of the kids are older in his class, so I'm hoping that he does watch his peers like you mentioned and grow in that direction. Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 18:14
  • Quick question for you from your experience as an instructor and a parent. I'm buying his gear just a little at a time. I bought him the short stick. And he "played" a lot with it the first class he used it, and got in a little trouble for playing with it. Would it be a good idea to let him explore the weapons and the gear at home before he uses it in class? I just purchased the head, foot and hand gear about 10 minutes before the instructor took his belt away. It was kind of a mixed message because I told him we were going to purchase the gear since He seemed to be enjoying karate. Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 18:24

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