Five evidence-based benefits of martial arts for children
By Courtney Cameron, Barrhaven Martial Arts Centre
We all know how important physical activity is to a developing child, but choosing an athletic extracurricular can be a daunting task.
With so many things to consider – your child’s interests, the physical and social benefits of the activity on your child’s development, potential unwanted consequences, health concerns, financial investment, and other logistical limitations – knowing where to start can be difficult.
While you’ll have to manage a lot of the logistics on your own (sorry about that!), there are some excellent resources out there to help guide you through the benefits and consequences of various activities on your child’s physical, social, and intellectual development. Countless scientific studies have assessed these outcomes of athletic activities and there are plenty of books, blog posts, articles, and other writings out there that discuss and explain them. Here, we’ll talk about five science-based benefits of martial arts participation on your children’s development.
Including this one almost feels like cheating, as the known benefits of athletic activity for children is likely what brought you to this article in the first place. However, the importance of cardiovascular as well as muscle and bone-strengthening activities for children must not be
understated. Martial arts can be an excellent way to build healthy bodies and combat childhood obesity. The average 125 lb person will burn 600 calories during an hour of martial arts activity. Furthermore, lifestyle changes and long-term activities like martial arts training are more effective for maintaining a healthy weight (and for losing weight) than short term attempts. So, you are doing your children an incredible favour by introducing an enjoyable, long-term tool into their health and weight management toolboxes early on.
Self-confidence and Self-esteem
In addition to the confidence-boosting results of physical activity (positive body image, better health, feelings of physical capability and accomplishment), martial arts training has also been shown to increase children’s self-confidence. By encouraging self-awareness and introspection, the martial arts can significantly improve a child’s sense of self, self-esteem, and their resilience. Whether it be through achievements in class, being proud of their successes in competition, or achieving their next belt, the martial arts teaches your child that they have the skills to face obstacles, pick themselves up when they fall, and ultimately achieve their goals.
Teamwork and Prosocial Behaviors
Prosocial behaviors refer to a child’s ability to voluntarily cooperate, help, share, and have concern for the feelings and welfare of others. Prosocial behaviors are those positive behaviors that benefit society as a whole, and they have been associated with many factors of well-being. A wide variety of scientific studies have discussed the ability of martial arts to facilitate the development or improvement of prosocial behaviors in children – even those children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Studies suggest that these benefits range from medium to high levels of improvement and that this can be observed after only 3 months of training! These developments in prosocial behaviors can have benefits for your children’s relationships with their peers, their teachers, and even at home (since martial arts participation has also been linked specifically to positive family development). Martial arts training has been shown to help develop traits like communication, teamwork, empathy, compassion, and respect.
Cognitive Functioning and Academic Performance
In addition to the impacts that martial arts training can have on physical and emotional development, there are also scientifically observable benefits to children’s cognition. There are important mental processes that enable us to plan, focus, switch between tasks, remember instructions, and demonstrate self-control. Children are not born with these skills, but as parents, we can facilitate their development and the martial arts have been shown to do just that! This is especially important if your child struggles with things like concentration and focus – it has even been shown to significantly help children with ADD and ADHD!
Children who participate in activities like martial arts demonstrate superior performance on tasks of cognitive control, on academic tests, memory, concentration, in general classroom-conduct and in real-world cognitive processing (such as crossing the street) compared to less active children. This can have observable impacts on your child’s abilities in organization and planning, homework completion, note-taking, time management, study skills, adaptability, and multi-tasking.
Ability to navigate bullying
One of the most practical benefits that we see in martial arts training for children is in their ability to navigate bullying – but it is perhaps not in the way you expect. While self-defense is an important aspect of the martial arts for many people, the true goal, especially for children, is that their training will provide them with the necessary skills to avoid physical confrontation in the first place.
We’ve already talked about how martial arts improves children’s self-esteem and resilience, but this can also positively influence their ability to handle interpersonal conflict and bullying. Multiple school-based studies on martial arts participation and bullying have shown that martial arts can significantly improve children’s resilience, ability to cope with bullying, and overall mental health. Further, martial arts based bullying programs have also been shown to result in a lower frequency of aggression and greater frequency of helpful bystanding (kind and helpful behavior toward victims of bullying) among students. Martial arts is widely misunderstood as promoting violent and aggressive behavior, but many studies demonstrate that this is simply not true. There is much scientific support for the use of martial arts-based interventions to address violence and bullying by teaching empathy, self‐control, and peaceful strategies to resolve conflicts.
Still afraid of the Cobra Kai?
We’ve all seen The Karate Kid, so we know that not all dojos are created equal. While there are all these fantastic benefits of enrolling your children in martial arts training, you might not see these results in the same way depending on where your child is training, and under whom. It’s important to make sure that the facility you choose is a positive environment that your child will love going to and will benefit from doing so.
In Barrhaven, there is a dojo that prioritizes character development along with the physical aspects of martial arts instruction. The Barrhaven Martial Arts Centre is a facility with world-class instructors who have a keen understanding of how to teach the martial arts to best benefit your children’s development. Frequent “mat chats” with these positive role models, use narrative and question-and-answer periods to have explicit discussions that encourage your child’s moral and social development. These are used to solidify the implicit lessons that are constantly taking place during the course of martial arts training.
Don’t take it from me though, go check out the Barrhaven Martial Arts Centre for yourself! Have your child try a free class (or two!) and explore what the martial arts can do for your child, and for your family.
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Today’s post was sponsored by Barrhaven Martial Arts Centre – we would like to thank them for supporting our community blog.