Martial Arts for Children – How Young is Too Young?
A common question that parents wrestle with is what age is best to enroll their children in martial arts. It's not uncommon for a head instructor to get calls from parents wanting to enroll three year olds so they can learn to defend themselves. Some parents, and even some instructors, share the view that no child under the age of 10 to 12 should be allowed to enroll in the martial arts. The real answer is that it depends on many factors such as:
o The personality of your child.
o The type of programs offered by a particular school.
o Your reason for wanting to enroll your child.
o Your expectations.
Early childhood martial arts training should be viewed more as "street proofing" than it is as a serious forum for learning martial arts skills. Do not expect a four year old child to absorb and apply skills at the same rate or proficiency as older children. Martial arts training will definitely boost their self confidence, increase their awareness of dangerous situations, and instill social skills and values that are absent from much of today's society. Enter training with this in mind and you're off to a very positive start.
One question to critically ask your self is, "Why do I want my child to study martial arts?" If you think they will learn how to subdue a 200 pound attacker think again. A quality school will teach young children basic techniques that they can easily learn and become proficient with. The techniques they learn should be oriented towards escaping from an attacker but more time should be devoted to teaching avoidance and awareness.
Before enrolling your child in a martial arts school take the time to watch how classes are taught for the age group of your child. Many martial arts schools are happy to take your money but offer little of real value to your child. Due diligence is the key; do not be afraid to ask questions about the curriculum and the qualifications of the instructors. Much time should be devoted to teaching values, skills, and self defense in terms and in ways that young children can relate to.
You should expect your child to feel safe and secure when they attend their classes. As a parent you should feel comfortable allowing your child to be taught by the instructors. And, you should feel your child is actually learning something of value … not just how to punch and kick.
So, how young is too young?
o Under the age of four – definitely too young.
o Four to six – maybe; but it depends on the child and the school.
o Over six – definitely; but the curriculum should reflect the different needs of children at different ages.
Keep your expectations realistic and your child will enjoy a long and rewarding journey into the world of martial arts.
© Lloyd Fridenburg 2007