During class, it is not uncommon for one of our young students to cry on the mat, and so we would like to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about our policy on how to handle this when it happens, and the thinking behind it.
The reality is, crying during class will happen. It’s inevitable. When it does happen, it should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the child is crying because of true pain due to an injury, then that should be dealt with appropriately and medical attention will be sought if needed. Thankfully this is an extremely rare occurrence at our academy due to the structure and rules we have in place. In all other cases of crying our policy is to approach the situation differently.
The reasons behind crying on the mat are varied: the child may be frustrated, they could be intimidated, or maybe simply embarrassed, for example if they are losing a match. Crying can also be used by kids as a form of manipulation. It is also important to address crying on the mat quickly, because this is one of the few behaviors a kid can do in class that will distract all of the other students and disrupt the progression of the entire class. More often than not, a kid crying in class is their way of avoiding an uncomfortable situation or getting attention rather than true injury. We also find that it is commonly the same offenders who are repeatedly disturbing class. Unless they are crying due to real pain, we will make it clear to them that this behavior is unacceptable, and teach them the skills and tools to handle their emotions and express themselves in an appropriate way.
As instructors, part of our job is to teach our students how to handle their emotions, and the best way to express themselves. When I see kids crying on the mat it is most often out of frustration, mental pressure, or even a form of manipulation, rather than them being in pain. It is therefore up to the instructor to employ his or her judgment to assess where the child is in terms of emotional development, and therefore determine the real reason behind the tears.
This is particularly relevant to students who attend a regular class. The instructor will be able to figure out if a particular child using crying as a way to avoid an uncomfortable situation, or to get attention, because a pattern will emerge over time.
In this way, if we were to give the child a easy out of the situation, such as quickly ending the warm up or whatever it may be, we would be doing them a disservice as instructors and mentors. Instead, as long as they are in no physical harm, it is better to allow them to stay in the uncomfortable position so they can figure it out for themselves, work out their emotions and explore other ways of overcoming difficulty, rather than escaping the situation or giving up. By letting them find their own achievement, we give them the tools to success that they will carry into adulthood.
The habits and attitudes we are helping kids develop at an early age through Jiu-Jitsu are critical to their success later down the road. In most cases, left to their own kids will eventually learn that crying is not socially acceptable and “grow out of it”. However, this doesn’t mean that they have learned to deal with their emotions. If they are not challenged and taught how to appropriately handle their emotional reactions to situations, this will often manifest as unhealthy anger or in some cases psychological issues later in life.
Our policy is to be strong against crying in class. In many cases what may look like tough love or disregard for the child’s feelings from the outside, is actually a specially targeted way of helping our kids develop emotionally to become healthy and functioning adults. In these circumstances, it is our responsibility as instructors to make it clear to the student that their behavior is unacceptable. We should also take this opportunity to teach them other skills and tools to handle their emotions, and appropriate ways of expressing themselves.