Recently, my 9-year-old hit a snag in his martial arts class. He practices Shotokan, a style of karate that focuses on mastering technique through continual refinement. His sensei sums it up by saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
My son was a few weeks away from a belt test (new color means higher rank). For the test, he performs skills for a group of sensei to show he is ready to advance. He has completed the process several times over the years, and he had the skills down for this next step. However, in class one evening, he became frustrated and stepped away from the group. The following week he had a more difficult, emotional moment, and on the drive home, he told me it was because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue with karate.
Here’s some of what initially ran through my head:
- No! You have a real knack for this and have gotten so much out of it.
- It’s the beginning of the school year, and you are more tired than usual. You’re just cranky.
- You should have tested already, but I screwed up booking our vacation, so you have had to wait for the next round and have plateaued in the meantime. My bad.
- After years of sitting through your classes, your brother is finally old enough to attend class too. So guess what…. we are coming here each week anyway. You might as well get something out of it.
I let all of these thoughts wash over me as I considered the best way to address this. While I didn’t want to push him to continue, quitting suddenly didn’t sit right with me either. I also knew not having a decision would stress him out. We needed a plan.
I decided on a two-part conversation. The first part addressed the emotional component. My side went something like this:
- First and foremost, you have my support. You don’t have to continue with this if it’s not something that you want to do, and you get to decide when it’s time to stop.
- It’s hard to admit when you want to end something that’s been a big part of your life. I think you’re very brave.
- As you think this through, remember the feelings that cloud the decision. It’s the beginning of school, and you are exhausted. You will feel more settled soon.
- Also, you don’t know what the right thing to do is, and that feels weird, but it shows you care. Sometimes in life you have to live with discomfort for a while until you know what to do. It will be okay. Take your time.
- Even if you don’t continue, we will be there for your brother, so think about how you will feel being on the sidelines week after week.
The second part focused on executing his decision if he decided to stop. Again, my feedback:
- If you decide you no longer want to do this, you can walk away with my support. However, we pre-pay monthly for classes, so out of respect for me and dad, I ask you to finish out this month with your best effort.
- You will be the one to tell sensei your decision, not me. You need to show him respect by explaining why you are deciding to take a break, thanking him for all his help, and asking for the opportunity to return in the future if things should change. This conversation will happen face to face. You won’t just disappear at month end.
- You are a few weeks away from a belt test. You have worked very hard over the past year preparing for this. I think you can honor all of that effort by sticking it out until the testing process. Then see you how feel. If you decide to stop, you will look back and feel good about how you ended things. We both know you can pass that test. Let yourself wrap up on a high note.
He decided to work through the test, and he advanced to the next belt. The experience re-energized him, and he is still attending classes months later. Was I happy with his success? Of course. Would I have been okay with him quitting too? Yes, because he would have done so thoughtfully.
Sensei wrote on my son’s test card that he demonstrated a great spirit.
I showed my son the comment and told him a great spirit is the key to everything. Being able to maintain that through tough decisions….that is the true test, and he passed with flying colors.
How do you help your child decide what to participate in and when it’s time to move on?
This has been an original post for World Moms Blog by Tara B.
Photo credits to the author.