I always find sharing actual email conversations I have with parents. Here is a very good one.
This parent has a child who recently returned to the dojo after the Covid shutdown and was finding "catching up" a little difficult and challenging. Here is my first email following up on the tough "belt promotion" class last week:
Good morning (mom and dad),
I want to check in with you to see how Amanda is doing?
I know she had a cramp during class last night. Yesterday’s class was unusually demanding with the belt promotion. I thought the most powerful thing she did was “get back up” and back into the class. That emotional recovery is a powerful skill for any child. Mom you did a great job supporting her. The perfect balance between empathy and encouragement. Well done. You lived the saying I shared last night - “In our family we always . . .!”
Congratulations on your newly belted ninjas!
Yours for stronger kids,
Here is their reply back:
She was pretty discouraged by that cramp, and mentioned this morning it was still bothering her.
I tried to encourage her to push through it, and that's what led to her breakdown you saw in class. I have a really hard time knowing how to balance giving her space to recover while not letting her give up. I wanted her to push through because I was worried that if I coddled her she would not give it her "all".
It reminded me immediately of what we were seeing at the end of summer, where when it got tough she would just crumble. Last night I could tell that after that cramp, with the kata and the nunchaku, she had retreated into that "this is too hard and overwhelming for me" mindset. It's frustrating because I know she can "try my best" and that that counts more than getting it right, but she doesn't seem to internalize that. It was only the second day back! Of course we don't know all this stuff yet, and THAT'S OK!!
I'll just keep letting her know that and trying to pace with her. We'll figure it out :-)
Mom __________ Then my response back to mom: ________________________________ Thanks mom, You did the right thing! You are right. At her age you do not want to be careful not to over-coddle her. You should support her emotionally but making her deal with her own emotions will develop independence, discipline and empower her. We see this a lot in today’s “my child is perfect/so smart” and “their self-esteem” world of raising kids. Most parents do not realize over-protecting/shielding and over-coddling their kids actually does the opposite. They become emotionally weaker. You want your child to live a good life, not an easy life. Amanda is like a lot of young “high performers”. They are crushed by failure. Then they begin to give up and later not even try from the start because it may be too hard or they may fail. But the good news is the cure is fairly easy - Amanda need to fail more. They need to fail in many small and big ways ways every daily and multiple times a day. The problem is for most high achieving kids this rarely happens. Think about it, how many times (other than karate) did Amanda fail yesterday? The nice thing is we can easily and intentionally create faliure in Amanda’s karate class every class. In the dojo we creat a "failure rich", yet safe environment. My job at times will be to create good stress and failure just to the point right before Amanda “breaks”. That is what will, and really the only thing, that will make her emotionally stronger. Talking does not work. It actually can make it worse. If you say “Amanda, don’t give up, you can do it” a thousand times, it will never work. It just brings more attention and more energy to the failures and struggles. So I suggest you resist “talking” about it. You may not realize you are reinforcing and making a bigger “deal” about the failure. This emotional strength can only be learned by “doing” and more importantly by experiencing the deep intense and personal emotions of struggle and failure. (* Here is a part of a follow-up answer to a question in another email she had about "ignoring" her child's complaints: First, maybe “ignore” was not the best word to use. Think of it more this way. You are not so much ignoring Amanda feelings but instead you are “gently forcing” her to deal and learn to deal with her own emotions and her response herself. In others words, as a strong teaching parent, you are not letting her depend on you to deal with her emotions and sooth her but instead you are encouraging (really gently forcing) her to learn to regulate and comfort herself. If you as a parent are the one who deals with and handles their emotions, (soothing them) they will never learn to do it for themselves. They will be dependent on you for their emotional responses and sooth them. They do not need you unless they are truly hurt or injured.) This is hard and that is okay. It is not only okay, but it is good. Amanda is safe here emotionally (she just does not know it). She can fail and fail often and instead of feeling bad or feeling like others will laugh or notice his failure, instead they will cheer her on. They will say “Good on your Amanda!" The other thing that often happens is high performers become their own worse “bully”. They are hard on themselves and say things to themselves you would never allow a friend to say to them. Here is the most magical thing in karate. Once kids (and adults) “get it”. They get knocked down repeatedly and pop back up immediately. What is even more amazing is they think nothing of the failure even if it was devastating. They think about it for about 5 seconds! But here is what puts it over the top. When they not only get immediately get up from that failure and instead of discouraging them it drive them to push even hard. It drives and motivates them. I have seen this so many times and it still always sends a shiver up my back and makes my heart swell out of my chest in the pride I share with them and their parents. I know this email is getting long but this is important to me. I want to share one last story I use all the time which best helps parents understand how to handle this situation: Think back to when your child was very young, like 1 or 2. They are playing with others and starts running out of control down a grassy hill. Not surprisingly, they trip, fall and do one of the best face plants you have ever seen. They immediately look up to you. You start crying and running to them saying “Oh my poor baby!” You immediately hold them, crying yourself. You take them away from playing with their friends and even think about taking them to the Emergency Room. But lets replay the fall. This time, when your child looks up to you this time you instead, calmly look at them, you make sure their nose is not crooked and their is not any arterial bleeding. Upon seeing they are not morally wounded, instead you just smile and not say a thing. You just go back to talking with your other mom friends. They get up and get back to playing. With this second scenario, the next time they fall what how do you think they will react? Now lets go back to the first scenario. How about the child you went running and crying to? How do you think they will react on the next fall? I bet they not only ball their eyes out over even the slightest fall but the start doing it with every small fall or failure. They cannot help but feed off your emotions and reaction. Kids need to skin their knees and eat dirt. It will not hurt them. It will actually make them stronger. Yours for stronger kids, Sensei P.S. - Would you mind if I share this email with your fellow parents if I change the names?