Brown bear, brown bear……why are you here?!

My kids really like their martial arts class, particularly S. Up till now it’s been a standard thirty minute class each week, with the slightly annoying sticker reward at the end. I know, I know, I’m such a sticker hating hippy. But seriously. At four, five, and six, why can’t the joy of the sport be enough? Little kids shouldn’t need to be bribed. But if there is a week when the stickers are forgotten, every bloody kid is upset. And why? Do they actually cognitively link the sticker to anything? Every kid gets one, so they are not merit based.

My kids like the stickers, so I’ve squashed my anti sticker sentiment. I don’t want to make them give up something they enjoy. And as we used to say when I was back in the therapy world, everything is ‘grist for the mill.’ We can have lots of discussions about these things. Fine.

But then talk of the reward charts entered the scene. Myself and a couple of other parents weren’t pleased, and that included parents of schooled kids. These reward charts are to get them to do things at home that the parent might normally have trouble getting them to do. Oh, there is so much wrong with that last sentence I don’t know where to start! We don’t have continual problem behaviours. Nor do we have to (often) coerce the kids to do things. We have a lot of freedom and choice, and both kids have taken on growing responsibility for stuff – their own personal care and toys, as well as helping pitch in around the house. There are no obligations, no punishments if someone doesn’t want to help – because they only help if they offer to. I know some of you may think we are crazy. That’s okay. Maybe we are. But it is working for us.

I just don’t get why martial arts should be rewarding kids for doing nightly reading, brushing their teeth, etc. I wonder if it is because it is trying to instill some mystical martial art thought processes or something? But surely martial arts are an inbuilt meritocracy – you earn belt/badges and progress to different levels depending on how much you train. Fair enough. That’s the nature of it.

Then why The Bear?

The Bear is a giant bear neither of my kids has cared too much about. He’s a relatively new thing, only making an appearance twice so far. The ‘best’ kid gets to borrow him for the week after class. I’ve been very lucky in that neither of my children has had a breakdown over not getting The Bear, though other poor souls have.

Until today. S worked her arse off. There was lots of (brilliant, really brilliant stuff) about heart rates, being healthy, etc – and she participated more than anyone. Did she win the effing bear? Nope.

She hung her head and asked me, ‘Why didn’t I win the bear? I tried so hard.’ In my head I was thinking, I don’t know, dude, but you totally should have. Ha.

She is the sort of person who does try very hard. She wants to be perfect. That worries me, but that’s a post for another day. Bottom line, though, my daughter cares a lot about stuff like this. And while The Bear is supposed to build children up, for kids like S, I think it only has the potential to do more harm.

So as we walked to the car I told them the truth – a little something I picked up from other mothers who also had bears in their children’s activities (wtf is up with these bears?). I told the kids that The Bear would likely just be rotated, that everyone would get a turn. I’d rather break the mystique of The Bear than have it break my kid’s spirit.

She loves martial arts. The exercises, the kicking, the punching. Her face glows while we are there.

And I wish that could be enough. Her joy, her getting to try new things, her working hard to progress.

Perhaps this is an inevitable problem – as we are now the only home educating family in a class of children who are daily offered rewards (that may not logically link to anything! I’m a rant girl!), use behaviour charts, are daily forced to do things they do not want to do. It makes me happy that we are not living that way – not that I judge people who are. Each to their own.

A few months back I took the reward chart issue to an online group filled with experienced, wise unschoolers. I read and deeply considered everything that was discussed, and it has helped us move forward. My kids can choose whether to do the charts. I won’t be signing my name in the squares – they can put happy faces in themselves. But The Bear?

You don’t need him, S. You are strong and smart and you may feel you are not sure, but I am. I can hold the sureness for you until you are ready to rise up, magnificent, and claim it for your own.

follow up post

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8 thoughts on “Brown bear, brown bear……why are you here?!

  1. This reminds me a bit of the Elf on the Shelf nonsense. I’ve always felt that bribing children to do things they should just be doing anyway is a losing strategy for parents – external motivation rarely works as well as internal drive.

    • I agree.

      Though we totally do have an elf. He’s not some psychotic spy working for Santa, though. He’s just a holiday guy that drops by for a week or so before Christmas and hides in a new place every day.

      My kids have never read the creepy book that came with him. I find it all a bit…stalkerish and disturbing! Ha.

  2. Z has been at school since the first week of September, and is already sad that he hasn’t been made “star of the week”. I hate it.

  3. Can you find a new class? This doesn’t sound like a real martial arts class, it’s sounds like a kiddie version? Has it changed so much? I haven’t done martial arts for about 7 years, but the kids class from our instructor was a proper class and the only reward was the new belt you earned through getting better and passing your grading. The kids loved it and got so much from genuinely pushing themselves. And there was literally blood, sweat, and tears. It was awesome. 🙂

    • This IS the 4-7 year old class, so it is a younger version. It’s a proper school, all accredited and stuff. Taught by two people we like, one of which is apparently quite a bigwig in the sport!

      They work towards belts, but also badges – right now they are doing fitness and exercise badge, hence the heart talk stuff.

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