Most people can immediately think of two valid concerns with teaching self-defence to young children:
1. It destroys their innocence
2. It turns them in to bullies.
As a parent, I can appreciate both of these concerns. But the good news is that a self-defence program for toddlers can be structured and delivered so that the children get all the benefits, while protecting their innocence and developing their character.
I think of it like this quote from L. R. Knost: “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
A good self-defence program for young children will be a holistic program that uses an atmosphere of fun to help each child become the best little person that they can be.
The hallmarks of a good self-defence program for children are:
1. The instructor places at least equal emphasis on physical and life skills such as coordination, strength, balance, communication, determination and self-confidence
2. The instructor teaches through age-appropriate games and play
3. The instructor uses lots of positive words of encouragement and support such as recognition of good work and praise for good behaviour
4. The lessons are fun and filled with laughter and the children enjoy participating
5. The instructor builds discipline and respect – such as waiting their turn, listening, standing or sitting straight and tall, speaking politely, doing as the instructor says
6. The instructor creates an atmosphere of kindness – being gentle with each other, encouraging each other, taking turns and immediately stopping any bullying behaviour
7. The instructor teaches children how to use their most powerful weapon – their voice
8. The instructor teaches self-defence with child-friendly explanations – never any talk of scary boogeymen (more on this below)
9. The instructor sets clear rules about when to use techniques – always as a last resort, never ever to hurt brothers or sisters, or mummy or daddy, or friends or playmates
10. The physical techniques are focussed on protecting the child’s personal space, not on touching another child (protective not aggressive).
The trickiest part of teaching self-defence is how to tackle serious stuff without making the kids scared or worried. The best approach is subtle and cleverly disguises the dangers that the children might face.
Think back to the Karate Kid and how Mr Miyagi taught Daniel. Mr Miyagi didn’t teach Daniel to fight. He was more subtle than that. Mr Miyagi embedded some foundation movements in Daniel when he taught Daniel to “wax on and wax off”, “paint the fence” and “paint the house”. Well, we don’t quite do the same thing but you can hopefully see the point…
In our program, we also embed some basic movements and hide them in child-friendly games and activities. We talk about mosquitoes landing on noses, and making a roof with our hands, and being a magician. (All of this makes more sense when you’ve seen a lesson!)
The bottom line is this: self-defence for children shouldn’t be scary or aggressive. It should be a holistic program that helps children to grow into the best people they can be. Our greatest gift to children is to help them see the world as a beautiful place with respect for themselves and each other.