Toddler Aikido: What I Learned About Parenting From Martial Arts
I studied martial arts for many years, and I have decided that raising toddlers is the best possible training in conflict management. As anyone that has studied martial arts (or watched Karate Kid) knows, classic martial arts are about conflict management first, and fighting second. You are supposed to avoid conflict at all costs – avoid ‘doing harm.’ Only under the most dire circumstances are you justified in using your art. The inner self-awareness and control required to do this is partially how martial arts and spirituality became linked.
That’s why martial arts movies that show training sequences always have lots of standing-in-the-rain-on-one-leg-overnight scenes, or doing-the-teacher’s-laundry-for-a-year sequences. The student is supposed to be developing patience, humility, and self-control. Well, those methods have nothing on raising a toddler – or two, as in my case, with two-year old twins (and a 4-year old big sister to boot.) What requires more patience than trying to get a toddler to drop what he’s doing and go to the car to get in his car seat (or, for that matter, to go anywhere, in a timely manner?) What could possibly be more humbling than potty training? And is there any situation that requires more emotional self-control than dealing with a ‘terrible two’ tantrum?
After reading several toddler management books, I have also concluded that toddler management techniques are basically all variations on age-old martial arts tactics. Consider:
Distraction: What parent hasn’t used this time-honored technique to get their toddler to do, or allow, something they don’t want? Need to change a diaper on a reluctant little one? Give her your cell phone. Want to get her dressed? Turn on the Wiggles. It’s basically the equivalent of a karate ‘feint’ – distracting your opponent with a fake move in order to get at them elsewhere.
Let Them Exhaust Themselves: One book I read suggested commisurating with your toddler’s frustrations for as long as it takes for them to move on. If they don’t want to take a bath, you just keep saying, ‘No bath, no bath, I understand you don’t want to take a bath.’ Eventually they just give up (or so the theory goes), because all they really wanted was to be heard anyway, and they are too tired to keep objecting. This is similar to a suggested fight strategy – let your opponent set the pace and type of combat, and attack as much as they want for awhile, while you just sit back and defend yourself, letting them exhaust themselves to the point where you can make your move (of course this assumes you can defend yourself for awhile.)
Redirect Their Energy To Your Own Benefit: Kind of a variation on ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, with this technique you try and channel your toddler’s obsessions into productive tasks. Got a toddler who loves to turn on the all the faucets in the house and play in the water? Fill a sink, or baby pool, with all his toys (or your tupperware) and let him clean them. A similar approach is especially popular in ‘softer’ martial arts like Aikido, where you use your opponent’s energy against him, by deflecting his attacks in just such a way that he ends up injuring himself – doing your work for you.