Most parents who send their children to martial art classes usually have very little experience in the martial arts themselves. This means that the first thing that comes to mind for them is ‘is this safe for my child?’ Unlike many other activities that they could be sending their children to, martial arts is usually full contact, especially the more athletic based ones like wrestling, judo and BJJ. So, it is the responsibility of the academy and the instructor to make sure that the classes are as safe as possible. How can you insure this? Well, there is no 100% guarantee to avoid accidents, but there are ways to really diminish the possibilities.
Firstly, spacing is really important. This applies to adults as well, but kids are far more clumsy and less conscious of their surroundings. So make sure that there is enough space between the pairs of kids practicing. If your class is too large, then you have to incorporate some sort of activity that allows for shifts – some students sit and rest while others work, or divide the class in a way where some kids are doing an activity that takes up less space while the others do activities that involve more space because they are in pairs, working with a partner.
Secondly, another good tip, although seemingly minor, is to never keep your back facing the class. The instructor needs to face and see as much as the class as possible to spot potentially dangerous positions and moments before they turn into injuries - such as children performing a technique poorly.
It’s already quite obvious that teaching methods used for adults and children are very different. With adults, you can jump into technique details as much as you want, relative to the level of the students. But with young children, technical details have to be approached differently, and sometimes, the goal is not necessarily to have them remember the actual technique, but to develop things that are far more innate, such as balance and conditioning their bodies for the future in jiu-jitsu. Of course, there are talented children that pickup technique the same way adults do, but for the most part, children should learn to prepare their bodies so that when they are older to learn more of the details, they will do so with ease.
You can try to be as serious as you want as an instructor, but the truth is, kids can’t focus for as long as adults can, so you have to find creative ways to teach them while making it fun at the same time. Games are, of course, a great way of engaging them. Games can include things related to themes like balance, learning breakfalls or gaining agility and flexibility. A game also has to be something that is dynamic and constantly changing so that the kids can stay focused. If the activity drags on for too long you will always notice a drop in enthusiasm. So classes have to be fast-paced and full of energy.
One of the main reasons a lot of parents send their children to martial arts is because they want their child to learn how to abide by rules and develop a sense of respect for the people around them. Often, kids that are troublesome at home are sent to martial arts classes to be disciplined. Although dealing with misbehaving children is not the goal of BJJ classes, this is a reality that instructors will face on a regular basis.
It’s hard to turn away a membership signup because a child misbehaves in classes. However, there are different levels of bad behavior and therefore it really depends on the skill of the instructor for how they will deal with this.
Many children, especially ages 6-9 have short attention spans and could easily lose focus during the class. They could start talking to others or even stop practicing techniques at any given moment. It is up to the instructor to keep things dynamic and exciting. However, sometimes you will run into children that can be aggressive or refuse to listen completely. They could talk back to the instructor and basically have no positive response to anything that is said to them. In this case, if the situation gets really bad, and nothing can be done, it is well worth it to tell the parents that the child cannot attend classes any more. When there is an uncontrollable child in the class, not only does it disturb the other children from learning, but it also makes the instructor look bad that he is incapable of dealing with the child. It’s bad for business and bad for the students.
This is probably one of the most important things a child can take home from a jiu-jitsu class. Besides learning to defend themselves on a practical level, should they be bullied at school or worse, they also learn values on how to treat other people on a day-to-day basis.
Firstly, kids that train jiu-jitsu are far less likely to be aggressive towards others. Any buildup of energy is released in the class and they also learn how to gently practice with their peers. They learn how to communicate and interact with people of all backgrounds, depending on where you are in the world. The list just goes on.
But most importantly, children learn respect. They learn to respect their elders, authorities and peers. When a child learns a throw, they learn how to be gentle even though they are doing something seemingly violent.
Another type of discipline they learn is dedication. Children who go to jiu-jitsu class regularly learn how consistency can yield good results. They will see this eventually when they are graded and receive a new stripe or belt. That’s why gradings are so important because it summarizes all the hard work they have done in the past. A lot of these habits are learned subconsciously and your children will not realize their importance until much later in their lives. But when they do, they will be thankful to their parents for making the effort of taking them to class.