One benefit to your child taking martial arts is building self-confidence. It is an accomplishment to break a board, learn a form, master a weapon, and earn a black belt. However, I cringe every time I hear the words excellent, awesome, perfect, fantastic, etc. when a parent is praising their child. As I am not an expert on parenting, I read as many books as I could, and still do. There are two books that stand out – “How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and “Parent Talk Words that empower, words that wound” by Chick Moorman. Both books teach there are two types of praise: evaluative and descriptive.
Evaluative praise evaluates and uses words such as excellent, awesome, and wonderful. The child feels good temporarily and ends up always seeking that “excellent” approval. Also, they might feel more pressure to live up to that status of excellence. Dad says I was excellent, now I have to always perform at that level. What happens if I make a mistake? What happens if I am not excellent the next time? These questions will create unnecessary stress. I feel those words are vague and personally, give me a feeling of uncertainty about myself. If I am awesome or excellent or perfect, should I not be a 9th degree black belt? Did the person really see what I just did? Do they feel a need to give a random compliment to make small talk? If they think I was excellent and I was just a little better than average, are they lying and what else are they not telling the truth about? Do I need to practice anymore? My growth as a martial artist can stop as I am excellent and awesome. And worse yet, does my growth as a human being stop?
Descriptive praise gives a description of what they did correctly. Examples are: I see you chambered your knee high and your kick was head level. You were keeping your guard up in sparring and that did not give your partner any opportunities to score a point. I saw you used control with that new Black Belt Club student. You were focused and showed a lot of effort at your belt test. A child will then recognize their qualities of listening, empathy, retaining what they learned, practicing, and that they did the drill or technique correctly. This self-recognition will give them confidence in themselves and then they can take that confidence and apply it to all aspects of life. By giving a description of what you saw them do correctly shows that you are paying attention to them and that they are important to you. At a recent belt test, I saw two different parents looking at their cell phones when Master Patterson tied their child’s new belt on. Were they also looking at their cell phone when their child was demonstrating their skills? If they were, they would have to give praise of “excellent job”, as they obviously did not see what their child actually did.
Words are so powerful.
So please take the time to watch your child and then choose your words wisely to praise them. The results will be a self-confident child who strives to be a worthy person. This can also work with adults.