Ready to be a Karate Kid?

Dear Mamas,

My partner and I are in a tiff about what might be best for our vivacious 4 year old son.  He is extremely outgoing and we have recently enrolled him in karate.  He is having a hard time paying attention and within 4 lessons has been benched (their version of time out) once and verbally warned twice due to disrupting other little dragons in his class.

He never had these issues when we enrolled him in soccer, a much more active sport, swimming lessons, and other outdoor activities.  He is an only child and marches usually to his own drum.  He plays well alone or with kids his age or above and below his age.  He has a insatiable appetite for cause and effect and I believe that karate is not filling this need.

My partner believes that he needs the discipline to prepare for a larger preschool.  I do not want him to get a sour taste with coaches because of this class.  There are several instructors, but one in particular instructor, tends to come down on him with repetitive lecturing.  I tell my partner, he lost him at hello.  I believe our son does well at team sports, but is having a hard time at this slower paced sport.  Perhaps he is not able to concentrate at this level yet.  She says I am over protective and if we pull him out I teach him to quit.  I just do not want his self esteem to be at stake.  Who is right?

Hi Criston,

What you describe sounds like you’re both a little bit right. To figure out what’s going on in your guy’s karate class, it’s useful to consider the nature of martial arts instruction and what’s required, along with your son’s developmental skills.

Most karate schools place great emphasis on the need for discipline, in fact they often market to parents as a way to increase children’s self-control and respect for authority. The sports your son has been involved with before may not have required this degree of discipline.

For example, when running on the soccer field or swimming in the pool, a child this age likely wouldn’t be expected to pay such close attention to the coach’s instructions for the group and wait quietly while other children take their turn. A 4-year-old soccer team commonly looks like a group of adorable munchkins in droopy shorts, all running in different directions, having tons of fun while getting their ya-yas out.

A pee-wee karate class, on the other hand, tends to look like a group of well-organized kidlets in crisp, white uniforms standing quietly at attention. Some 4-year-old boys are ready to focus and follow directions in that way, while others aren’t. Sounds like your guy may not be quite there yet.

That said, it’s important that you take a look back at your son’s other group experiences and make sure this is karate-specific and not a pattern of behavior for him. Has he been successful in preschool until now? Do other children enjoy him and seek him out to play? Did the swim and soccer coaches work well with him?
If you haven’t gotten other feedback that supports what the karate coach is saying, chances are this just isn’t an activity that’s a good match for him right now. Not all sports (or all coaches) are well-suited to all kids.

Hopefully, you signed him up for a limited series of classes and can choose not to renew when they’re finished. That way, he can complete what he started and you all can consider trying again in a year or two if that’s what you decide. If not, just chalk it up to “live and learn” and move on.

~ The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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