Building social skills through martial arts

If a child has poor social skills, it can be difficult for him or her to succeed in academic, personal and professional arenas later in life. Many children are naturally shy, and have trouble building relationships. If early attempts to make friends and create a social circle are rocky or upsetting, many children find it hard to continue trying altogether. As a result, they fall out of practice and fail to develop the appropriate interpersonal skills needed to confidently navigate the world.

Fortunately, there are ways you can help a struggling child become more social. With practice, your child can become more confident and open to experience, giving them strong footing going forward. 

Recognizing poor social skills

Before you set out to improve your children's socialization, check to make sure you have a firm understanding of where their skills should be. Some children are social butterflies by nature. If you compare your children to these kids – particularly if you have shy little ones – you might think they're further behind than they actually are. Here's a look at the social skills reports doctors and child psychologists expect kids to have at different stages

2- to 3-year-olds: Able to greet others, take turns talking and look at the person speaking, and has a sense of humor.

3- to 4-year-olds: Can communicate through words, and is able to take turns in board games or other play.

4- to 5-year-olds: Can give commands, able to be patient with younger children, and likely to tattle or report perceived slights.

5- to 6-year-olds: Understands bad words, tends to bargain, understands fairness, and able to perceive needs and wants of friends and family. 

6- to 7-year olds: Uses gestures and posture to communicate, enjoys and shares jokes, has better listening skills (although may not take direction well), and able to empathize with others.

There aren't hard and fast rules, so if your child can't check off every indicator for his or her age group, don't worry too much. A child who is significantly off track may have a developmental disorder – if you feel your child is far behind the stage he or she should be, speak to your pediatrician. However, it's perfectly normal for a child to be a little ahead or behind when it comes to social development. 

If your child isn't quite as social as his or her age would indicate, consider martial arts.

How martial arts can help

Martial arts is a great way to help your child develop social skills. Classes themselves are done in groups, so it's a great opportunity for your little one to make new friends. The nature of meeting a new friend in a class means your little one and his or her new pal will already share a common interest.

If your child has had trouble making friends in school, joining a martial arts class gives him or her a new environment and a fresh start. This can be particularly helpful for those children who have had a negative experience, either due to classroom bullies or social anxiety. The blank slate that comes with joining a new class can provide a more welcoming environment for budding friendships.

Moreover, martial arts instill confidence and discipline. Many children who have poor social skills also have poor impulse management. Martial arts are based on the concept of building discipline and mindfulness. Children who have disruptive impulsive habits are likely to find martial arts practice curbs these outbursts. This can make it easier for them to maintain relationships and develop a strong social network.