Sitting still is tough for a lot of kids, but too often today we see that kids want to sit still in front of screens rather than get up and move around. It’s not a new problem, but it is one that every parent is familiar with. It’s one of the great benefits of martial arts for kids - children are naturally drawn to the fun and even the discipline of training, drawing them in to get excited about moving.
For parents and caregivers, it’s about whole kid health. Though there are of course the physical benefits to being active, from agility to cardiovascular health, there are also emotional and academic reasons for kids to participate in physical activities.
Physical health & social skills connection
There is a close tie between physical health and social skills for kids.
Kids learn social skills when they take group exercise classes. For instance, in our kid’s self defense classes at ASD, children learn conflict de-escalation and how to be aware of the feelings of those around them. Self defense for kids weaves together personal responsibility with a sensitivity to the environment and the people in it. The foundation of this training, for kids and for adults, is in avoiding a problem situation before it sparks into a physical confrontation.
There’s also the opportunity for kids to take turns with others. Social learning allows kids to more easily integrate with their friends and classmates, and that’s a big boost to self confidence. Moving offers a wonderful place for children to interact with other kids and with adults in a way that’s less pressured than things like a playdate or a classroom. The happy brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that are released during exercise can form a buffer that encourages children to keep going, even when it’s tough.
Non-verbal communication and learning through doing is incredibly important for kids. Physical activities let kids learn from both their instructors and their fellow students. In martial arts, it’s about the punching and the kicking, but it’s also about weaving together interactions that help kids make sense of the world around them. The more we can get kids interacting with other people, the better they will be able to handle those social situations that can be so tough. We all went through times of insecurity, and science tells us that physical activity helps to even out our emotions and so engage socially with a lot more ease.
Better sleep for kids
Work hard, sleep hard.
Mental health for children is tied to lots of aspects of their lives, but one important point is sleep. Without the right amount of sleep, kid’s bodies don’t grow well and their brains can’t learn well. Screen time makes this problem even worse, with kids wanting to stay up later to use their screens. The negative effects of screen time on sleep are well known, but luckily we know that physical activity can help to reduce the actual hours spent on screen time. Movement also exhausts kid’s physically so they sleep better despite the blue light that disrupts their rest.
With increased physical activity, the quality of sleep improves. Anyone who has tried to get a child to sleep knows that this can be a tough thing for parents and kids. Movement is a great way to make that easier, and we all know that good sleep helps us to be more focused and healthier overall.
Academic benefits of exercise for kids
The tremendous academic benefits of physical activity are a new angle for parents to look at when thinking about exercise and their kids.
Martial arts for kids is tied closely together with goal setting. Goals are naturally built into any kind of self defense or martial arts training, no matter how old you are. Moving from one level to another requires kids to master certain skills in order, practicing them over time and building up their ability. It’s also great because kids can see their progress over time in physical ways. For instance they’ll be able to run faster or kick higher. That sense of accomplishment builds on itself, encouraging kids to come back for more!
Academic challenges are not the same as physical challenges, but that difference is part of why learning a sport is so important for kids’ academic success. Learning that they can overcome challenges in a supportive environment like a dojo builds confidence. That confidence doesn’t just stay on the mats, it goes with them out the door and stays with them when they sit down to do their homework or when they have to take a test.
Movement for kids supports longer attention spans. That’s right - when kids are physically active, they get bored less and can focus more easily. This is hands down one of the best reasons to start martial arts training for kids, because increased focus is a major skill that transfers to school in wonderful ways. Memory improves too, as well as the ability to put together information. This has a lot to do with brain chemistry and the flood of positive chemicals that happens when kids exercise. When the blood gets pumping to grow those muscles, it’s also pumping through the brain to help it grow.
No discussion of the connection between academic studies and physical activity can be complete without talking about problem solving. In kid’s self defense class, kids are constantly confronted with tasks that they have to do that they’ve never come across before. How to move effectively, either by imitating the instructor or by following instructions, helps kids learn how to think critically and problem solve. In a self defense class for kids, there’s also active problem solving component.
Getting up and moving around is essential for kids! Whether it’s through dance, sports, or martial arts, part of being healthy is putting away the screens and doing something active. Finding a great martial arts program is a powerful way to support whole health in kids.
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