Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Black Mark on Their Belt is a Good Thing

Nothing motivates my young students more than small, half-inch-wide pieces of electrical tape. These sticky, glossy, self-esteem tools help me challenge them, and ultimately celebrate great triumphs in character development.

As part of my Taekwondo youth program, I award a variety of colored stripes (electrical tape) to students to mark progress within their belt rank. A yellow stripe is for good punches, blocks, and hand strikes; orange is for outrageously great kicks; green is for powerful and graceful forms/patterns; purple is for simple yet effective self-defense techniques; and blue is for high-endurance sparring. Red is awarded when the student shows great fighting spirit. That one isn't awarded every day. Even more rare, though, is the black stripe. This stripe indicates above and beyond the mat progress in character – and is easily one of our hardest stripes to earn.

Yesterday, I gave one of those coveted character-development “black stripes” to a 7-year-old student who brainstormed with his parents on a personal trait he wanted to change – and for one week he did it!

This young yellow belt unknowingly started a trend, for as soon as I got home, I received the following email from another parent whose two white belt sons were now eager to work on a longstanding self-discipline issue.

“They were intrigued when you mentioned in class doing a home (character) challenge,” the mom wrote. “They have both been having a hard time (trying to break a bad habit) and they would both like to try to (stop) for one week. If they succeed in this, would it be possible for them to get some recognition in class?”

How fabulous is that?

My answer was to fire off an email to students young and old, challenging everyone to commit to changing one thing – a thorn in their side, something that eats their lunch – for one week.

I’m excited, because I know they’ll all work hard to persevere through tough obstacles – and they’ll feel great about themselves afterward.

Here’s how it works:

With their parents, students choose from one of the suggested challenges below – or make up their own. (The character trait practiced is in parenthesis.)

Sample challenges:
• Listen to your parents: Reply yes/no, sir/ma’am and take immediate action without complaint (respect)
• Do your homework without complaint (responsibility)
• Eat all your vegetables (self-care)
• Take baths without complaint (good hygiene/self-care/self-respect)
• Break a habit that’s harmful/hurtful (self-care/self-respect/self-discipline)
• Brush your teeth before bedtime without complaint (good hygiene/self-care/self-respect)
• Go to bed at the assigned time without complaint (respect/self-care)
• Get dressed and ready for school ON TIME (responsibility)
• Be nice to your teachers and peers (respect)
• Be nice to your siblings (respect)
• Clean your room and keep it clean (good hygiene/self-respect)
• Do your chores without being asked/reminded (responsibility/integrity)
• Take on a new household chore and follow through (initiative/integrity/maturity)

How would your kids, nieces, or nephews do at any of the above? What challenges could YOU work on to set an example for your kids regarding the importance of building better character every day?

• Call your parents just to say hello (respect/compassion/love)
• Don’t complain about your boss/co-workers (respect)
• Break a habit that’s harmful/hurtful (focus/self-care/self-respect/self-discipline)
• Avoid judging your neighbors (love/compassion)
• Pay your bills on time (responsibility)
• Don’t spread gossip (respect/integrity)
• Be nice to your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend regardless of whether you’ve had your morning coffee (respect/patience)
• Don’t yell or honk the horn at other drivers in traffic (patience/self-control)
• Listen to others’ views without interrupting (respect)
• Don’t call [fill in name of your least-favorite lawmaker] names (respect)
• Live within your financial means (responsibility)
• Don’t yell at the kids (patience/self-control)
• Don’t hit “send” on that snippy email (respect/self-control)

I’ll admit that the piece of black electrical tape my young students work so hard for is not attractive to an adult. But how about this: For any adult who takes on a character challenge and succeeds, I’ll offer a free week of Taekwondo classes. Simply email me your challenge for approval to TaoTexas@gmail.com.

That young yellow belt probably has no idea what he and his parents started, but I’m excited to see where this goes – to see the growth of a group of students that surely will result from this challenge.

My gut tells me I should check to see when Home Depot closes today. I suspect I’m going to need a lot more black electrical tape….

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