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The self-serving friendships of martial arts

By Rochelle E. Brenner

My child doesn’t fit in. My child doesn’t have friends. I can’t get my child to leave the house. The other kids are all friends with each other and my child is left out. My child is afraid to try new things.

These are common complaints of parents, particularly post-pandemic.

Regardless of the reason, the solution is to get your child into social settings where they can interact in a positive group atmosphere. After 6 months to a year of this, students get enough confidence and grounding to find their place in other settings.

If it were me, I’d put my kid in an after-school activity that intentionally fosters social interaction, especially karate, for a minimum of 6 months. If you don’t have that bandwidth/interest, register for a parents night out. The purpose of that event is for the social interaction among the kids. One night out won’t accomplish much, but it’s a start. It’s not babysitting or individual training. It’s an introduction to social interaction without a parent.

There are other pursuits — team sports, scouts, clubs, camps — where teamwork is part of the process, but it could also be cliquey and inaccessible to the socially awkward or super young student. So if you don’t go the Action Karate route, you can probably investigate which ones of those organizations have that socially supportive environment that enamors your child. Note that at karate, it’s not accidental or a side benefit. It’s highly intentional. It’s not “oh I happen to fit in here.” We make sure you can fit in.

The reason karate is like that is also self-serving. When kids have friends at karate, they are more likely to stay and to want to keep going. The number one indicator of whether a student becomes a black belt is having close friends or family members train with them. So if instructors can get kids to make friends at karate we know they will want to keep advancing with them and take class and look forward to it.

The key for parents is once they have that experience at karate, they find it easier to replicate building friendships in other places particularly in middle school. I can’t tell you how many parents told me their kid was afraid to go out for a team or had no friends at school and their confidence went up enough to try soccer or chess or play date or “hang out.” Karate is the first time their child made a friend.

Being self-conscious everywhere is a smothering feeling. If you can simply get your child one place where they fit in socially, you’ll see an improvement in other places. Then you’ll get the feeling of peace as a parent that everyone wants.

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