Mixed Messages

There are so many lessons in a kids karate class. Perseverance. (When you are really tired and think you cannot do another pushup, do just one more. ) Being a good example. (See that new white belt kid over there who is spinning in a circle. Why do you think he is doing that? Do you think it may be because he saw you, a green belt, spinning on his butt?) Painting. (A few weeks ago I told my most advanced class a story that went like this: Suppose you had an assignment for school to draw a picture that was going to be hung up in an art show. You wouldn't just scribble on a piece of paper, say "I'm done!" and call that your masterpiece, right? No you would work really hard. Make it your best work. Well your kata is the same. Don't show me your scribble Pinan 1. Show me your masterpiece.")

That's deep right?
Some real Kyoshi stuff.

I spend a lot of time telling my kids that karate is for them. That if they cheat on their pushups they are only cheating themselves. That if they do lazy punches it is their body that will learn how to punch badly. That they will get out of class exactly what they put into it. So if they put in 100 percent, they will improve 100 percent.

And other motivational talk.
All true, by the way.

This week in summer camp we had a water fight day.  Kids were allowed to bring water guns, spray bottles or balloons. Then they chased each other (and me!) around the park trying to see who could get the most wet. When it was time to fill up the balloons, a couple of the kids got a little upset. "Those are my balloons," one of them said. "I don't want them to all get used up." Another one complained that they were from a friend and therefore "special." 

My first thought was to take away one of the boy's water guns, the one that said "UWS" on it, because it was "my water gun and if he didn't want to share then I didn't either." But eventually I just told both kids to put the balloons away and then explained the rule that I used to have for Maya when she was a toddler; basically anything that comes to camp is for everyone. It is totally fine if you don't want to share your stuff, but please leave it at home.

They are six, not two.
They were cool with it.

That was Tuesday. Today when the campers returned from the park there were surprise treats hidden all around the dojo. Armed with a bunch of clues, they had to search under, over and behind things, looking for candy. Everything they found went into a big bowl in the middle of the room and then they all got to share the treats after lunch. What about the kids who found more pieces? Doesn't matter, everyone got the same amount.

This time no one complained (it was CANDY after all) but it did make me think. I want my kids to learn to work as a team. But I also want them to be very aware of how all their hard work benefits them and them alone.  This week's activities included sand art, bracelets, a game where teammates had to work together to collect colored balls, a friendly game called "Murderer" (it is everyone's favorite!), and a group cooking project where everyone had a job. But we also played dodgeball. And chess. And Monopoly, the most selfish game there is. Not to mention all that sparring and grappling.  

(Quick aside, the first time my kid learned what losing at Monopoly is, she burst into tears. The end of that game is BRUTAL.)

Back to camp. Am I sending these kids completely mixed messages? 

The truth is that yes, I am trying to teach my kids both lessons because it turns out that both lessons are important. Sometimes your hard work benefits you and you alone. Like when you stretch a little bit wider every day and at the end of the week you have a full split! But sometimes your hard work benefits the group. Like when you find six pieces of candy in three different hiding spots and now your whole table gets to enjoy it. One day being the one in class who does the best kata will win you first place.  But on another day it will get you put in front of a brand new blue belt who is told to follow your every move. 

Even harder than trying to teach kids how to be both tenacious and gracious, is trying to teach them which situation calls for which behavior. Like when you are playing baseball and the person who hits the ball is the tiniest three year old in camp. Are you supposed to let the ball roll past you because you know he will be so happy to get a home run? Or are you supposed to catch it (which you can easily because he is three and you are six and have won 5 little league trophies ) so your team wins the game? 

Do you really, really have to share your stickers with the whole camp?

And while we are at it, sharing sucks!
But candy, candy is awesome!

And here I thought my job was just to teach them how to do Pinan 2 and play Murderer.

P.S.. We actually changed the name of the game this year to "Sandman". (As in, he makes you go to sleep.) Because when a three year old comes home from summer camp and says "Mommy today I was the murderer" we get a lot of phone calls.

I really love them.


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