Parents tell us all the time that their kid doesn’t feel like coming to class but when they get there their kid loves it. It sounds like a motivation problem, but it’s deeper than that. It’s a habit problem.

Why were they excited to attend when it was new and now once the novelty wore off they don’t want to attend? There could be a variety of reasons but typically the newness wears off and old habits are restored. It’s back to video games, screens, tablets, and laziness. Parents don’t want to put up with the tantrums so it’s easier to give up. I don’t hear parents tell me they’re quitting, but instead trying new things, which ultimately leads to the same cycle: exciting new activity, newness wears off, old habits set back in, temper tantrum, let’s try something new, repeat.

If this sounds all too familiar, I have a few ideas that may help. These tactics are built from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and it’s worth the read.

First, your reward system is all wrong. You shouldn’t reward your child for going to the activity. Then they only focus on getting a toy or ice cream for completing the class, even if they have lackluster effort. Instead, do something at home in which going to the activity IS the reward. If you try to rip them away from their screen time, they will fight you but know that if they plod through their martial arts class or soccer game, they’ll get that reward. The chore becomes the activity and you build the wrong habit.

Try changing one word, instead of you “have to go to class” change it to you “get” to go to class. Pump up the fact that you are providing this opportunity for your child, especially if they begged for it and now are out of love with it.

Next, try habit stacking. If you get into the habit of doing homework in a certain place at a certain time, then it becomes a habit. Stack a habit on top of that and with consistency kids will know that on Mondays and Thursdays (or whatever your schedule is) homework time is immediately followed by martial arts class. You train your brain first, then your body, then the rest of the time is yours. Do that a few weeks in a row, it becomes a habit, and you get less friction when it comes time for class. Inconsistency is the number one killer of building habits and achieving goals.

Lead by example by joining the class yourself or being involved from the sidelines. Martial arts is one of the only activities you can actually participate side by side in at the same time as your child. Even better, you’ll get your own unique benefits from the training too: flexibility, exercise, self-defense, just to name a few. Kids are always watching and our actions as parents speak volumes over what we tell them to do. They will pick up on your habits and behaviors too. Plus you provide an accountability buddy on days when their motivation is lacking and vice versa.

Finally, engage with the instructors. Every child is different and even though the instructor teaches the class as a group, we are very aware that the class is made up of individuals, each with their own needs, wants, and desires. Instructors can point out how much growth your child has had in the program even if you don’t see it. Remember that it’s OK to be a beginner and learn from mistakes and failure. Instructors can provide positive reinforcement and insights in class. The instructors are very good at building habits through discipline and focus, staples of martial arts classes. It may take time, however, and it definitely needs support at home, to have these habits bleed into other areas of their life.

Remember that each child is unique, so it may take some trial and error to discover what motivates your child best. Always prioritize open communication and a positive approach to foster a love for martial arts and remember that in the long run, hopefully they never have to kick and punch someone. It is the lessons of consistency, hard work, focus, determination, and grit that you lay the groundwork as early as you can that their future selves will thank you for.