Is It a Waste of Time to Play Foosball With My Sons Every Night?

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Reader Question:
After work, I come home each night and play an hour of foosball with my sons. Recently, I’ve had the feeling that somehow we’re wasting our time. Like we should be playing piano, or reading great books, or doing something else productive. Is it a waste of time?

No, and I bet this is a phase. Ask yourself this, were you playing foosball everynight two years ago? I’d bet 1,000 dollars the answer is no.

“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Much of parenting involves phases. When a baby is born, you change diapers and feed him like clockwork. You think that is life. You ask yourself if this is all you are ever going to do, and then, bang, it ends. Kids get into certain activities in cycles, and they eventually get out of them. Foosball every night is a phase. You’ll probably still play with them in a year or so, but nowhere near as often. You’ll be on to other things.

But even as a phase, it’s still not a waste. You are spending time with your kids. They are learning motor skills and improving their hand-eye coordination, not to mention building up chops they’ll use in college bars in their 20s. You’re probably teaching them a bit about sportsmanship too. And you’re enjoying yourself. What’s not to like about that?

How Do I Stop My Child From Quitting Piano?

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When I was 11, I quit piano to play football. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Now what about our kids? To prevent kids from quitting, you’ve got to lay a good groundwork of commitment.

First, you’re child has to be practicing consistently. Kids like things they are good at. And consistent practice will lead to improvement. If your child sees that he’s getting better, he’s more apt to stick with it. Even 10 minutes a day can propel a child’s piano playing forward and create a self-reinforcing habit.

Second, you need to expose your child to awesome piano players that he looks up to. What music does he listen to? Check out those bands and find out if there are any piano players. Then look up some videos of them on Youtube. It’s also helps if you take your kid to recitals by older kids in the neighborhood he may look up to. Anything that shows piano playing as something cool and neat will make him stick with it.

Third, your child has to respect and value his teacher’s views. Notice that I didn’t say “like.” That’s totally different. Kids are going to want to please people they respect. And if your teacher has your child’s respect and admiration, it’s going to make it much less likely he’ll quit.

Now, what if you haven’t laid that groundwork and your child just wants to quit piano? In this case, the question is how important is it to you. If it’s important, I’d consider a long-term bribe or reward. Something like if you keep with it for the next year, I’ll give you X. Generally, external rewards like this tend to be a bad idea. But if you match the reward with trying to lay down a groundwork of commitment (see above), then it may be worth it.

How Do I Find a Karate School for My Kid?

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I’m a huge fan of martial arts, as a way to build a kid’s confidence and athleticism. And every kid can benefit from knowing basic self-defense. But many parents don’t know where to start when looking for a martial arts school.

Here are six things to keep in mind.

  1. Karate Isn’t the Only Martial Art

    A lot of parents think that Karate is the end all and be all of martial arts. The truth is that there are numerous martial arts. Even Karate has many different forms and styles. Here are the some of the martial arts you’ll see taught to children: Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Kung Fu and Brazilian Jujitsu. But importantly, when a child starts out, the actual style and art don’t matter that much, unless you are a die-hard martial arts enthusiast. Other things matter more (see below.)

  2. Look for a Strong Instructor

    The key to a good martial arts school is strong instruction. More than anything, the teacher in charge of the school will determine the quality of a child’s experience. If your kid is going to be throwing kicks and punches, he should be guided. You’ll want to look for an instructor who is calm, flexible and good with kids, but also pushes students to stretch their abilities. The instructor should emphasize excellence, and that includes the correct forms and technique.

  3. Don’t Pay for Belts, Weapons or Advancement

    Some martial arts schools will ask students to pay for belts, weapons or rank advancement. This is a sign of a bad school. These payments create a perverse incentive for the school to keep pushing belts or selling weapons, even if a child isn’t ready for them. The best schools charge a flat fee by the month or per class and make advancement free. The only exception may be fees for higher belt tests, which can take an entire day or more of a school’s time. It’s also OK to be asked to pay for optional extras like t-shirts, camps or tournaments.

  4. Stay Away From Schools That Emphasize Fighting

    One common misconception about martial arts is that it’s all about fighting. In reality, the true purpose of martial arts is discipline, confidence and self-defense. Real life fights are unpredictable and messy. An actual fight can leave a child seriously injured or even dead. Look for a school where the instructor says that the best self-defense is to run away. Fighting is always a last resort. That said, a school that doesn’t have any sparring or contact is also a red flag. The school shouldn’t emphasize fighting, but it also must prepare your child for real life circumstances.

  5. Find a School With Long-Term Students

    A high quality school will have long-term, committed students. If you walk into a school and meet students who have been there for years, that’s a great sign. It can also be a good sign to see those students teaching and helping out with classes.

  6. Find a School That Is Close

    Studying martial arts takes commitment and time. You want to make sure that the school you select is close to your home and convenient. Otherwise, there is a big temptation for your kid to drop out or not go to class. The real benefits to martial arts comes when a child reaches higher belts and feels a real sense of accomplishment.