Watering Children

by Sensei Chris Taneda, Kyoshi, Nanadan 

My father nurtures a substantial collection of bonsai trees. He spends hours trimming and clipping these living works of art. Plants that are on the brink of dying often find a second life if they are adopted by him. Dad can fix nearly anything. He also builds things from scraps that would be most people’s junk. These two attributes have apparently skipped a generation. When we are gifted plants, they immediately become wards of my wife. A local nursery offered a series of lectures on plant care. The expert said that most houseplants are killed by over watering. Conscientious and caring owners excessively moisturize their leafy prizes. The roots, from all the loving wetness start to rot and as the color of the plant changes to shades of autumn, the owner thinks it must be thirsty. More water is the only logical solution. The intentions have merit but the result is a dead plant. The lecturer explained that after the Christmas rush, unsold poinsettias are put in a corner and given less attention and less water. His observation was that the plants become healthier and more vibrant. Stress will cause some plants to blossom.

One quality that I do have is to right brain ideas. My inside voice said, “this is how many parents raise their children”. With love and all good intentions parents will give too much. The more the parents do and give, the less the child has to be responsible for. Skill sets for problem solving and creativity become extinct. Gratefulness and responsibility are replaced by attitudes of entitlement and unintentional discourtesy. Parents will do things for their children because it is easier than teaching the child the skill. They may even think they are being Super Parents. Subconsciously the child understands that the parent has no confidence that they can actually accomplish the task. It breeds insecurity and poor self-esteem.

I told this analogy to a group of mothers that I taught in a morning class. My son was in the class and the ladies asked him what he thought of this. Coolly he replied “Yup, I’ve never been watered a day in my life”.

Every year we have a karate youth summer camp. Children from the Dojo come to a mountain lake for a weekend of survivor type games and karate training. The parking lot is about 150 feet from the main lodge. Every camper knows that they must bring all their camping gear from the parking lot to their cabins, by themselves. This is written in their information package. We recommend that the campers pack their gear, get their sleeping bag and carry it around their house a couple of times as a test run. Inevitably there will be parents that cannot help themselves and must carry something for their kids. At first we would have a Senpai [helper] ask those parents not to help but this was often met with an uncomfortable confrontation. Now we just let the parents carry the gear all the way to the lodge and then have the child take it back to the parking lot again. Now the parents get to see that their child has the capability to actually carry this stuff twice as far. The seasoned campers will never let their parents touch their gear. Parents of twelve year olds will unknowingly have their child look incapable to a seven year old that is carrying in all their own stuff. These parents have already put their child in a precarious position in the eyes of their peers.

Too often you will see a parent loaded down with sporting gear or groceries and the child is walking behind holding nothing but a big gulp. This type of parenting has created a work force that treats customers like burdens. Customer service is becoming an oxymoron.

A pet peeve of mine is parents negotiating and letting their children have too many choices. Some families are run from the bottom up and five-year-old children will dictate what the whole family does. Parents will say they like what we do but their child thinks karate class is too hard or they are not promoted fast enough, so they want to quit. Would they let their child quit school if they didn’t like it or choose not to go to the dentist? Soft parenting will create an unreliable work force and it does not teach the children how to deal with obstacles in life. Medicine doesn’t always taste good and adults should make the adult decisions.

A study discussed in the book Paradox of Choice told how a food store put a display table of six different jams. The next day the display had 24 different jams. Although the 24-jam display got more traffic, the six-jam display sold ten times more jam. If there are too many choices no decisions happen. Think of this in terms of the choices given to small children. When I was a child our parents said we were doing something and we just did it. We trusted that our parents knew what was best for us. Doctors used to tell us what they were going to do for our illnesses. Now, the doctor and expert, gives choices to uneducated suffering patients. Some parents give too many choices to emotional and immature children.

Grocery stores can be the scenes of screaming, crying children that are enticed by goodies at the checkout. The storeowners know a way into a parent’s wallet can be through the kids. Soft parenting has led to negotiating with children and has developed unclear communication. Parents that say “No” and eventually give in and change “No” to “Yes” are teaching their children that with enough complaining or persistence it will become a “Yes” and he will get what he wants. Tough decisions are not always easy. The moral goal posts cannot change as parents are put under pressure. There was a time that you could trust a man by his word. This was considered a good and honourable thing. I find that children like clear guidelines. It makes them feel safe and they will test those borders to make sure you still care enough to keep them.

Children are always evaluating the words and actions of the parents. This communication will guide them in all their future relationships and how they treat others. Communicating clearly is another way of watering plants appropriately. Like Mr. Miyagi advised Danielsan ” Walk on road. Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, getta squished, just like grape.

Sensei Chris Taneda is a 7th Degree Black Belt with the title of Kyoshi and is the highest ranking person outside of Japan within the Original Style of Chito ryu. He is a member of Karate BC’s Technical Committee and part of Karate Canada’s Dan Grading panel. Sensei Taneda has experience with Educational Kinesiology for Kids, Touch for Health and NLP.


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