More Toddler Aikido – What I Learned About Parenting from the Martial Arts
My recent post on Peace Day got me thinking more about my past martial arts training, and a prior post I did called Toddler Aikido. Despite its name, this post had nothing to do with two-year olds wearing white gis (martial arts uniforms) and learning to defend themselves. Instead, it covered ways that my own martial arts training helped prepare me for the more exasperating side of raising toddlers. Not the physical training (don’t worry, I don’t use vice grips with my kids), but the psychological training.
Since people continue to forward that post around, here’s another set of parenting lessons from the martial arts (and these lessons can be quite useful for dealing with adults too, especially those that emotionally haven’t progressed much beyond the toddler stage!):
It’s All in the Timing: In martial arts, an ill-timed attack, no matter how strong, will ultimately fail, because it will just elicit the most opposition. Simply trying to overpower your opponent is exhausting. Instead, you have to find your moment – an opening when he or she has left some part unguarded, or is off balance. So it is with toddlers too. A request to ‘go potty’ or ‘pick up your toys’ will be met with automatic resistance if issued when your child is engrossed in something he likes – even if that something is not what you would classify as exciting. You have to find your moment. Join his activity for a minute, establishing a connection first, and then try building a bridge to your next request.
Laziness Never Pays: A lot of martial arts literature talks about ‘finding the flow’ or ‘zone’. You have to be in an open and receptive, rather than forceful, state of awareness, to intuit your opponent’s moves. But although this state is relaxed, it is not the same thing as laziness – spacing out or disassociating from the moment. Laziness will always bite you in the end. The same is true in parenting. When you are exhausted, but your kids are bored or clingy, it is tempting to just dump out some toys or put in a video, so you can have a moment to yourself. But all too often this will only distract them for a minute, and then they are right back on you, or bickering amongst themselves. Much better to invest time in getting them truly involved in a longer-term activity like play-do or building with blocks, sitting down with them and giving them a few minutes of the attention they want from you. Then, once they are satisfied and engrossed, you are more likely to get the time you need for yourself.
Emotional Control is Critical: When you get hit in a martial arts sparring match or practice, getting angry never pays. It just constricts your muscles, and distracts your mind, to the point where there is no way you will see the opening you need. It hands your opponent an instant advantage. The same is true with toddlers. As soon as you lose it, they are in control. They will either pick up on your state and lose it themselves, creating a situation with no graceful exit, or they will be amused by your anger, and do more of whatever it is they were doing in the first place, just to see what will happen. If you want them calm, you have to stay calm, and your best chance at finding a solution to your dilemma is maintaining your equilibrium.
Find Joy in Repetition: Martial arts training involves a lifetime of repetition. Every class, from beginner to eighth-degree black belt, tends to start with the same basic moves, over and over. To thrive you have to be able to love that training, and always find something new to improve and enjoy. So it is with toddlers, who love to repeat their favorite books, songs, and activities to the point where you question your sanity. While you may think you will have to jump out a window if you read Good Night Moon one more time, take a deep breath and try and see what your toddler sees. Try and revel in the familiarity, and find something new and beautiful to love.