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May 25, 2010
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Can we help kids build a safe place? Maybe they will build their own.

By W. Lee Fjelstad, Vice President, Verbal Judo Institute 

A child’s mind is fertile ground.  What will they grow within it?  Will they think thoughts of what they will someday become; possibly cultivate an idea that will change how we understand science; build a better building or road or bridge?  Maybe they will become a leader of a major company or even a nation?  What if we let their minds just flow free to dream?   Or perhaps by our lack of attention they will not have time to dream and spend their time closing their mind to keep out the nightmares?

We are not at fault if children don’t turn out perfect.  We are busy trying to earn a living so they have a nice home to grow in and earning a living is tough enough so our time is precious.  We have so little of it to share.

I wonder if listening has ever cost any money.  People say talk is cheap, but is silence really golden if by our silence we encourage the youth of our land to also be silent; to keep their problems to their own council, or the select few who can empathize with their plight?  What a bully takes compared to what they give is rather stark: they take self-esteem; they promote fear; and they reduce good will while creating thoughts of revenge, or worse,  that the victim would do anything to stop the victimization.  Anything!

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Maybe they need to be taught how to speak out; maybe we need to be taught how to listen.  Close your hand into a fist.  This can easily symbolize anger or frustration.  So how do we open the fist back into a hand to help someone up?  Count the fingers and thumb and ask yourself as you unclench your fist: Can I listen and make someone believe that I really am listening; can I empathize and understand how I would feel; can I ask the right questions and in the right way; can I paraphrase so I know I understand; can I get to the bottom line and summarize what I have just heard so I project that I am here for them?

In the Verbal Judo program we explain a strategy called L.E.A.P.S.; an acronym that symbolizes the best of how to engage in a conversation and gather information from anyone and on any subject to understand, and then act.

Ironically, as a martial arts instructor who initially resisted teaching children but was “guided” into it, I often found that much of the teaching was not just physical, but psychological.  The teaching of the philosophy of the fighting arts came after they had learned how to hurt.  The philosophy was to teach how to heal.  Only then did I understand their pain and heard their stories of how some wanted to use what I had taught.  I did not always like the stories but well understood the reasons.  To protect yourself and to protect others: a central tenant of any martial arts school education and we would be remiss if we did not teach it.  What they now needed was an adult to bounce ideas off and to give them an ethical line.

It was also ironic that so very many of these children students did not want me to solve their problems.  Nor would they ask their parents to do so.  They did not want a fix, but someone to listen; to take them and their problem seriously; and to offer guidance only when asked.  I found it interesting they knew better than I how to resolve the problem if they had the skills and the tools.  I often asked myself what I was teaching these youngsters.  Was it to fight, or to simply be safer in an unsafe world?  What would they build with the tools I gave them?

A bully cannot offer the foundation or the creativity to build upon it, or can they?  Take a careful look at the photographs I offer below as they were offered to me.  They are from the mind of a child that needed a safe place, so he built one.  A club house with rules.

Rule 1 No hitting or punching
Rule 2 No fighting
Rule 3 No saying bad words

His mother has just enrolled him in a martial arts school.  So now we wait, to see what he builds next.



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