My boys have taken up a new sport; Karate. I wanted to enroll them in a sport that would teach them confidence, self discipline and respect. Karate is known to possess those traits and many more. For many practitioners, Karate is a philosophical practice that teaches ethical principles with a deep spiritual significance. For others, Karate is a sport in which one can learn to defend themselves through use of techniques such as striking, punching, kicking, and open-handed techniques.
After two weeks of practice, my boys didn’t seem to grasp onto theses core concepts. Instead of focus, they were giggling. Instead of being discipline, they were making jokes. Instead of trying, they were giving up when they didn’t get a particular punch or stance right away. As I sat watching my DSs goof off, I felt frustrated and a tad angry. I wanted to yell them “Focus! This is an art, not a joke. Don’t give up keep trying.” Part of me wanted to tell them to get their shoes on, we were going home and pull them from the sport indefinitely. Obviously, their heart isn’t into the sport as much as the other kids in class. But what would I be teaching them? Quit if you don’t like something? Give up if something is too hard? Instead I decide I was the problem. I needed to find the best techniques available to motivate them.
What is motivation? According to Wikipedia, “Motivation is the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal and elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal directed behavior”. It is a combination of physiological, psychological, behavioral, and social cues that bring about a desired behavior. But how does that apply to a 4 and 6 year old? To me, it means that that cues (whether they be a grimace, positive praise, a clap or public recognition) that we give our children, will help mold our child’s behavior and direct them towards the behavior we hope to achieve.Young children are motivated by their own interests and desires. To shape their behavior, one must provide cues that reinforce the behavior we desire while ignoring or dismissing the behaviors that don’t coincide with our objective outcome.
After reading many articles on motivation , I came across 5 methods that seemed to be at the heart of every article (Dr. Sears):
1. Verbal Praise: Praise is the act of provide positive feedback to a child in a public or private setting. For example, when the boys perform a particular punch or kick correctly, I would say “Way to Go! Good job!” This causes them to know that the behavoir is acceptable and encourages them to repeat this behavior. PRO: It is a positive method that builds self esteem rather than causing hurt feelings. CON: If repeated too often, it loses its value thus rendering it null and void.
2. Selective Ignoring: Selective Ignoring is the process by which one ignores a behavior that is unfavorable. For example, if the boys are making joking while on the mats, I would ignore behavior without yelling or disciplining them. This causes the behavior to become insignificant and it will lose its appeal to the child. PRO: Its easy to do and again it does not cause hurt feelings. CON: It can be VERY VERY VERY frustrating for the parent and the time in which it takes for the behavior to disappear can be longer than some of the other techniques.
3. Reward: Children, like adults, often perform better when there is a ‘proverbial carrot’ dangling in front of them. Rewards provide a tangible item (i.e. Candy, toy, staying up late) in response to the correct behavior being provided. For example, if the boys complete they punch series correctly, they would obtain a star and after 5 stars they would receive a toy. PRO: Its a win win situation. The child obtains a object of their desire and you obtain the behavior you desire. CON: It can be monetarily expensive and the appeal for the reward would have to increase with desire to maintain the behavior sought after.
4. Consequence: This is the approach by which if a desired behavior is not provided, a negative outcome would occur (i.e. withdrawing privileges or time-outs). For example, if the boys are goofing around during practice time, they would spend 5 minutes in the room. PRO: In ensures that negative behaviors are recognized and not tolerated. CON: Its a negative form of motivation and it may lead to the child disliking the sport based on the consequences rather than the actual sport.
5. Negotiation: The resolution of a two opposing views to gain a favorable outcome. This ‘give and take’ provides a win-win situation for both sides. For example, if they boys promise to focus during warm ups, they won’t have to put their laundry away this week. PRO: Both parties achieve their individual goals. CON: Both parties must lower their expectations or give up something in exchange for a behavior to occur.
Karate is a month long contract. When it is over, if the boys are seriously unhappy and don’t enjoy the sport then we will not continue. But I do want to make sure that they give it a fair chance and experience the sport fully prior to giving it up. I think what I’ve learned about this experience is that children’s sports are not just a spectator thing. That parents play an equally active and important role. It’s a constant state of supporting and tweaking how you support your children with the hope that you will inspire and motive them towards a positive outcome (whether that be the desired one or not!)