Standing outside the box

I was chatting to my sister about disciplining teens and the old chestnut came up about giving them barriers to kick against. “Yes” my sister said, “but what if those barriers don’t work?”

It came to me that there are different types of barriers and then this analogy popped into my head. Imagine your teen in a cardboard box. Firstly, imagine that they are screwed up into a ball. They have no leg space to unravel themselves and they are struggling for air. It’s uncomfortable and oppressive and they can’t talk because their face is pushed downwards onto their chest, with their knees digging into it. They are getting hotter and more frustrated as they literally cannot move. It’s dark in there. Their parents are sitting on the box, preventing them from opening the flaps. 

Now imagine the scenario of the same teenager, but they are in a bigger box. There is room in there for them to stretch out their legs. They can breathe freely and when they want to talk to someone, they can open the flap. Their parents are standing just outside the box. When the teen stretches out their legs, their feet touch the sides. They feel secure in their box, as the cardboard walls make them feel safe. 

One thing I’ve learnt over the past few years, is how important it is to parent outside that big box, rather than sitting on it. Teenagers want to know you are there, but not too close. They need to feel trusted, but they also need to know what the parameters are. They need rules so that they can argue against them, whilst knowing you care and have certain expectations of them. In short, they need a box, but they need space in that box to move. If we don’t give our teens space to explore, to make mistakes then they will never learn what to do when they fuck up. If we are always on them, rescuing them when they fail, they will never learn resilience. If we don’t give them the space to be able to kick the sides of the box, they will most probably eventually explode out of it, catapulting us far away and abusing their new found freedom, because, like a kid in a toy shop, they want all the toys they were never allowed. 

So back to my sister’s point: what if those barriers don’t work? Well, if the big box isn’t strong enough, and this could be for a multitude of reasons: poor friendships, incident-induced anxiety, perhaps some nature and a little nurture, then we will watch them fuck up. That’s ok. We did and we survived. But we will be there, standing right outside that box, to help them get back on track. 

Have you ever?

Have you ever been in a situation in which you know a person’s behaviour is just so incredibly wrong, but you feel completely helpless? When your children are being put at risk and there is nothing you can do? When your child is being manipulated and emotionally blackmailed by people who should know better? When these people then turn on you and tell you to “shut up and listen!” When they tell you that you are ‘disturbed’ and ‘disgraceful’. When they tell your children that you are a ‘control freak’ in order for them to try to keep their tight grip around them.

Have you ever wanted to tell everyone you speak to about the injustice? To see their shocked faces? To hear the disbelief in their voice? To hope they can give you a solution?

Have you ever thought to yourself that something can’t be happening, but you know that it is? Turning thoughts over and over in your mind to try to make sense of nonsense. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, where there is no doubt that they are wrong.

Have you ever had someone try to crush you? With actions and with words. Try to twist the truth so much that you are looking the distorted picture in the face and thinking, ‘how did we end up here?’ And ‘why?’ Have you ever had people try to turn your loyal and innocent children against you? To involve them for a plotted end game.

Have you ever been told by someone that you are, ‘deeply unhappy’? When in their arrogant and misplaced wisdom, they are so deeply wrong.

Yet more importantly, have you ever risen? Heaved yourself up when you were exhausted by the emotional fight. Watched the confusion from afar. Almost pitied those people for what they’ve done. Have you ever found a resolution through composure? Through sense – common and good. Have you ever stood on the higher ground and smiled?

Have you ever?

Why all kids should learn a Martial Art

My partner and I run our own Taekwon-do club and we teach a lot of kids. I’ve been teaching Taekwon-do for over 20 years and I am also a qualified teacher. Despite my experience, every single day I learn something new, and that excites me. The children I teach are always showing me ways that I can improve and in return I give them many tools and strategies that they can use in their everyday lives, that will form a part of who they are. Yes. I really do believe that Martial Arts have the power to do this. To influence children and to make them more equipped to deal with life. All five of our daughters are black belts in Taekwon-do and I can see what an amazingly positive influence it is having on their lives.


Here’s why I believe that all children should do a Martial Art.


“Discipline becomes something they enjoy.”

This is one of my buzz words. When a child understands the importance of discipline, the penny drops for them. You can see it in a 3 year old’s eyes. We use many cues to develop the students’ self control. Our youngest students know that when they are told to, “sit like a black belt”, they must sit cross-legged with their hands on their knees. This quickly stops bum spinning and nose picking – two of a 4 year old’s favourite pastimes. At first, they may miss the firm reminders. They ignore, or perhaps don’t hear instruction. In short, they don’t notice that they now have a barrier to kick against, that’s not just a pad to punch. They quickly learn. Repetition of simple phrases makes them familiar and comforting and then discipline becomes something they enjoy. They are pleased to show their good behaviour. Even a well-disciplined child is quick to copy bad behaviour. However, the highly structured nature of a martial arts class allows this to be squashed and a simple: “don’t copy bad behaviour, copy good” is easy for even our youngest students to understand. In the dojang I set my expectations of a child’s behaviour high. The etiquette of the dojang dictates certain behaviours that the student must adhere to, such as standing with their hands behind their backs in line, with both feet flat on the floor – not doing a shuffle!

“They learn that there are consequences to their actions.”

We don’t allow the children to touch each other. We find that boys in particular want to be physical with others, either hugging or play fighting. In class, they are only allowed to hit the pads, or each other when they are wearing protective gear. From 5 years old the students are able to spar each other and self-control is essential. They learn that a lack of it causes them to get warnings in the ring and even disqualification. They learn that there are consequences to their actions.

Perseverance & Resilience

“Trying to save our children does nothing to encourage the art of perseverance.”

Kids nowadays give up far too easily. In many ways it’s not their fault. It’s partly the fact that the world they live in is so fast-paced that the next new thing is always around the corner, so when something gets a little tough they can drop it and move on. It’s partly the fault of the parents who let them, without giving something a real go. It doesn’t help when the parents play coach and shout at their kids how to do something they know little about from the sidelines. Trying to save our children does nothing to encourage the art of perseverance. It just makes the child feel they aren’t good enough and may as well throw in the towel.

“developing their determination and grit in line with their ability.”

Learning the patterns in Taekwon-do is hard. You don’t get that immediate high of a computer game, or even that other elements of Taekwon-do can give you, such as the sparring or breaking boards. Through persevering however, your child learns that in fact it gives you the ultimate high: the one that you had to really work for. The belt system of many martial arts gives the child achievable goals. As they progress through the belts, the goals get harder, thus developing their determination and grit in line with their ability.

“perseverance and resilience go hand in hand”

Many children lack the resilience that they are going to need in order to cope with the knocks life will inevitably give them. This is why I feel that perseverance and resilience go hand in hand and they certainly do in martial arts. You have to learn how to deal with actual knocks in the sparring ring and we teach the children the art of digging deep. When things feel out of their control we teach them how to deal with it and how to find the strength to keep going.

“mistakes are a positive.”

I find that children are often scared to take a risk, because they don’t want to fail. Perhaps their parents and school set very high expectations for them. I teach that mistakes are a positive. Every correction means that they are learning something. This helps the child develop their positive thinking and resistance to overcome failure. They gradually build-up resilience by failing and realising that the world hasn’t actually ended and they can try again.

Teamwork and social skills

“they are considered a part of a team.”

Although you usually perform your martial art as an individual, from the moment the child steps into the dojang they are considered a part of a team. Games, drills and partner work are constantly developing this idea. One of the things I love about our Taekwon-do classes is the friendships that are made in the dojang. Simple things, such as the use of high fives, make the children feel that they are part of a bigger picture. Teaching our children how to take turns and share are also important social skills and probably the ones that are the most difficult for ego-centric little ones to grasp. In our Taekwon-do classes, where we do lots of team races, there is ample opportunity for the students to learn how to use and practise these skills. Our zero-tolerance attitude towards unsociable behaviour ensures that the children feel that the training hall is a fun and safe place to be.


“so much more than saying, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’”

Kids aren’t born polite – the onus is on us as parents to teach them. This needs to happen way before they hit pre-school, or it’s the teachers who are picking up the pieces. Being polite is so much more than saying, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but that’s a start. One of the best ways to teach children how to be polite is by encouraging them to practice it at every opportunity. At the end of our Taekwon-do classes, the younger students receive a sticker, as well as certificates for achieving monthly goals. Whenever they receive something in class, they are reminded to say,  “thank you.” It’s easy to feel like a stuck record – the children are excited to be getting something and simply forget to say it. However, it is important that we persevere and keep sticking the same record on repeat. When the children do something for us in class, such as tidy things away, it is equally important that we thank them, as we must lead by example.

“the importance of saying sorry.”

Another element of courtesy is apologising if a child hurts someone, even accidentally. Inevitably, when they are taking part in a physical activity, there will be the odd bump and bash, but these small jostles and knocks provide the perfect opportunity for a child to learn the importance of saying sorry, as well as the other student learning not to overreact for attention.

“Eye contact is key”

Technology gets blamed for a lot of things these days and it is sometimes said that because kids’ heads are down with their eyes glued to a screen, they are losing the art of courtesy. One of the ways this certainly manifests itself is with the lack of eye contact it can create. I am a stickler for eye contact and when I am talking to my students, my usual phrase is, “eyes on me!” If a child isn’t looking at me, I don’t know whether they are listening. Eye contact is key to children developing their social skills. When I am talking one to one with a small human being – one who is a lot smaller than me – I will get myself down to their level and encourage them to look me in the eye as we talk.

“children quickly learn the art of respect.”

I find that children find it incredibly hard to listen. Some are diagnosed with autism, ADHD or ADD and learning a martial art can help with their listening skills. For others, it can simply be a lack of courtesy. We live in a child-centric world, where children often no longer wait to be heard, they just expect people to listen. In my dojang it doesn’t work like this and the children quickly learn the art of respect. It isn’t just the bowing when they enter the dojang. It is even more importantly the realisation that they are not the only person in the class who requires my attention. I have had a child stamp their foot at me when they didn’t feel I was giving them unadulterated time. A child needs to learn that other people deserve time too and this is a lesson that I instill in them.


“Kids need confidence in order to boss life.”

My stepdaughter was incredibly shy as a young child, but she attributes Taekwon-do to her confidence now. One of the most rewarding things you can see as an instructor is a child’s confidence grow. Kids need confidence in order to boss life. Low self-esteem causes problems right through to adulthood. Martial arts combat the notion of being the victim. Yet far from making a child the aggressor, they give them the confidence to be able to walk away from trouble. They give them the ability to sense a threat and to be able to avoid it and if a threat is unavoidable, we are teaching them strategies to deal with it. All children should know what to do in confrontational and potentially dangerous situations. All children and adolescents should be taught how to defend themselves and the importance getting away from the threat. It isn’t a natural instinct and it needs to be learnt. Confidence to deal with different situations, such as bullying and stranger danger, needs to be developed.

There are so many reasons why I am passionate about getting children into martial arts. This is why Oaks Martial Arts also teaches its programmes in schools. Martial arts should be on every school’s curriculum. Its benefits go far beyond the lure of the black belt and stay with them forever.


Women on fleek

I was watching the European Indoor Athletics Championships and thinking that the female athletes are seriously ‘on fleek’. It isn’t just their eyebrows that look good, (although I couldn’t help but notice). Some of their hairstyles look professionally done and their make-up looks good enough for a night out on the tiles. Yet, far from distracting from their amazing achievements, it just made me think: jeez! Not only can these inspirational women hone their muscles to pure, unadulterated strength perfection, but they are quite obviously feeling fabulous about being female. They are enhancing their femininity and then going out there and bossing it. This is women all over. Feminism isn’t about watering our female assets down. It’s not about shying away from them, so that perhaps we don’t attract unwanted male attention. It’s about doing it our way. It’s about making ourselves feel confident. This may be a teenage girl putting on a figure-hugging dress and showing off a cleavage to die for. This may be a new mum on her first night out since giving birth, wanting to dress-up for herself and her partner, to prove to herself (and him) that she’s still got what it takes. This may be a model wanting work and a woman struggling with a disability. Here’s to women being ‘on fleek’. Here’s to women who are bossing it. Here’s to women who just want to feel bloody amazing. People may say to us: “it doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s what’s on the inside that counts”, but what we put out there is us and we are human. We want to feel good about ‘us’. But that isn’t ‘a look’. It’s a feeling. There is no such thing as ‘a good look’. Looking good is feeling good about ourselves. We are of course our worst critics. We tell ourselves that we don’t look ‘good enough’. That means ‘good enough for us’. So we try to improve, for US! Not for him, or her, but for ME! Here’s to women everywhere who are on their own unique journey. We are all amazing – it’s personal.


Back then

I have (almost) finally succumbed to the fact that certain things are deteriorating due to my age. The blurry texts on my phone quickly prompt me to put on my glasses. My muscles not wanting to spring back to life after injuries, remind me that they are (ever so slowly) going downhill. Things change and I must accept it, as graciously as possible so as not to become that archetypal grumpy older woman. I am nowhere near 50 (46) after all. But the big one is beginning to be a reality for friends, possible membership to Saga is merely three and a half years away and it starts making you think about things in a different way. 

Sometimes my Facebook feed and articles I read, remind me of how things were back then, back when my girls were tiny, compared with how they are now. It makes me sound so old, but I am sidestepping slowly that way. Back then, I was a housewife, not a SAHM as there was no such thing. I was dog chained to the patriarchal society. I hated the word. I hated having to write it on forms, whilst beside it writing that my (ex) husband was a ‘Director’. He sounded so important and I sounded so pathetic. Yet I didn’t feel pathetic. I felt like a mum boss: organising, creating, managing her team. I fucked up, but I expect the ‘director ‘ did too. We’re all allowed to fuck up. We’re all allowed days when we feel like jacking it in, when the team don’t want to play the game. When we’re so frazzled we just want to call in sick. 

Back then, when daughter 1 was born, it was a hot, hot Summer. As I lay and fed her at night in the humid open air, without the need for a sheet or duvet, I would doze, as would she. When we woke I would just change her to my other side to feed and so we would slumber the night away in a sticky, milky haze. Daughter 2 was a winter born. At night I did the same with her. It was easier for me than lifting her every hour and sitting shivering in a chair or propped up on pillows with the midnight chill around me. We would lie and doze, under the warmth of the duvet we would fall asleep. One night I woke and she wasn’t there in my gaze, where she had been as she fed. I was engulfed in panic as I reached down under the duvet and pulled her up. A warm bundle of sleeping joy. But what could have been? 

Back then you didn’t hear about the dangers. Within a year my sister, as a rookie policewoman, was called to a house where a mother had rolled on her baby and suffocated him. “Never sleep with your babies” she told me and I reassured her that now I never do. A couple of years on and a cousin’s best friend tragically lost their baby the same way. 

Back then we didn’t know. Now it has a name: co-sleeping. It has become a topic of conversation, an actual choice rather than something you just instinctively do or don’t do. Something I did to make my life easier – my gut instinct driven (or obscured) by a desperate need for sleep. It was for me, not them. They needed milk and security, but they would learn to settle where they were put. Daughters 3 and 4 were in cots in our bedroom for 6 months, then my gut said we needed space. We needed to regain our nest. When the girls were unsettled, they were comforted in their rooms and our bedroom was only ours. Intimacy needs to happen in that bedroom. Couples have to cuddle alone and make love to keep their bond alive. It is your one sanctuary where your love for each other is cemented.

Back then there was no debate. There was no hot potato. Back then gut instinct told us this felt right. When something becomes a choice you have to weigh up its pros and cons and make an informed decision. You are barraged with ‘advice’ and your gut instinct is in danger of being drowned. Back then the main battle to retain your gut instinct was against well meaning relatives, who insisted it was better how they did things “back then”. Your granny’s advice is easier to dismiss as old-fashioned, than the vociferous women on Mumsnet.

I promise I will try not to be that annoying mother, who sees the internet as the devil and the main stress inducer of her daughters’ generation. Especially as I feel that my gut instinct, fuelled by sleep deprivation, could have endangered my babies. I can accept change. Things just seemed a tiny bit simpler back then.