How Aikido and Other Unusual Approaches Can Improve Your Child’s Impulse Control

We did a survey in our Private Facebook page and at the top of that list was the desire to learn more about helping children with impulse control. Because of that, I wanted to share with you a case study on how Aikido transformed a child.  

The Aikido Sensei who worked with this child held a Q&A session on our Private Facebook.  Please join us in our private Facebook Group to view future talks on parenting.

I asked a friend to share with me and others his own personal experience with his child who lacked impulse control and how Aikido was a big part in helping his son.  Here is his story.

“Difficult children” is the term often used for kids whose behavior puts them routinely in significant conflict with their parents and with the staff of day cares, Kindergartners, and then with their school systems. It is a rather PC kind of phrase that fails to convey the impact of their imperfect development has on their parents. 

Our child was “disenrolled” – he learned to call it “turfed out” by the time he was 3. – from daycares three times and, eventually, a nice charter school while in first grade. 

He was put on a medication by a child psychologist that had a nasty side effect and, if anything, made his behavior worse.  

After homeschooling him for the rest of first grade and all of the second grade. His mom, an RN quit work to do that. Even when he went to the school district’s behavioral class in third grade, she stayed home so she could volunteer in his class.  

There were many emotionally explosive events at home when one of his parents—yes, more often his father – lost control.

Instead of “difficult children” let’s say something more applicable, like “High Impact Disorder” – hey, we can use the initials, HID, so we don’t have to say “disorder” so often.

But purge your denial- we are talking about disorders, whether learned or inherited or, most of the time, some combination.

HID Kids have got them.

They are not going away anytime soon, but we can help them learn to deal with their life worlds, which are going to be very different than our own.  

Children for most of us are a projection of our internal idea of our own selves, in an idealized form. Although most of us know we are not perfect, we harbor the idea that our kids will be closer to it than we have been, if we just do everything right. 

As the parent of a “difficult child” — he was eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder — the first thing I have to tell you is that you need to revise this part of your personal mythology. 

The myth that our children will be everything we think we should have been — or we think we were — seems to be a natural human function that drives us to encourage our kids’ development and performance.

And we need to hang on to it to some degree; however, to the extent, it drives us to deny what our HID child may need, we need to re-write that myth.  

The first thing I did not understand is that the categories created by physiologists. They are largely found in a document called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, usually referred to as “the DSM”

These are nothing but the guesswork of psychologists that have tried to cram psychology into the medical model.

The implicit idea, I think, is simply wrong — that like measles, the “symptoms” of all psychological issues can identify a specific disorder, and that “diagnosis” indicates “treatment” (sometimes called “interventions”) that will relieve the symptoms.

Well, just on a preliminary level, the DSM is in its 5th revision, most of the HID Kid’s disorders have been redefined multiple times, and for many of them, the literature only points to things that sometimes help. 

Well, parents, you cannot really get away from the medical model of psychology because it persists in all the areas that you are going to have to deal.

But remember, it’s just a model that does not net answer all the questions for every HID Kid.   You have to be alert, skeptical, and always seeking solutions for your particular kid.

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So, what about my experience?

I say my experience, although it was a joint experience with my wife, whose own outlook will also be shared here.  And I want to include some input from some people who made important contributions because — and this is the third thing — you cannot do this alone.  

If you are faced with raising a “difficult child” as a single parent, you have my deepest sympathy and concern. I stress that even though my wife and I have had a stable marriage, we could not have gotten to where we are now — our HID Kid is nearly 14 and transitioning to a standard college prep school — without enormous contributions from others.

So, our HID Kid started off very active — never crawled.

His pre-walking method of locomotion was more like a spider-crawl — all fours at top speed, hands and toes only touching the ground.

Once he was bipedal — at 7 months — his favorite activity was somersaults.

We stopped him one night at 28, afraid he would make himself sick. He quickly discovered doing them off the arm of the couch onto the couch and progressed to flips. 

All of this before his first birthday. Since both his parents work, he was in daycare from 12 weeks or so – in retrospect, something else I recommend against. 

Bear in mind, I was teaching English to college students, having quit an active law practice, and had not taken more than Psych 101 nearly 50 years earlier. 

Neither of us had heard of attachment disorders, and we had only the vaguest notion of ADHD — by this time, we were worried about hyperactivity, but what we read indicated that it was too early to consider diagnosing.

And I don’t disagree. 

As far as behavior at daycare was concerned, he generally refused to nap but was otherwise no more than a very active kid for the first couple of years.

I don’t think they had to peel him off the 6′ chain link fence he climbed, trying to escape until he was over 3 years old.  My memory of details is a little fuzzy. 

About age 3, he began to be problematic for daycare.

He developed a strategy for non-compliance that used the tops of counters, shelves, tables, and other furniture that he could run across and nimbly leap from one to another, avoiding capture by the staff. 

The problem for the staff was compounded by the other children’s attempts to emulate his strategy, putting them at risk for injury.  

When we put him in swim lessons at the Y, he went into total melt-down, and his mom had to peel him off the fence around the pool just to get him out of there (I eventually taught him to swim when he was 11).

One of the disorders of our HID Kid is called Sensory Integration Disorder.

It is not uncommon for kids “on the spectrum” (meaning the Autistic Disorder Spectrum).  Through most of his elementary and middle school years, he had to have noise-canceling headphones — only the most noise-canceling (and expensive) ones would do the trick.

And to this day, he wears at least a light jacket even in Phoenix summers.  

About the same time that our HID Kid was developing significant behavioral problems in daycares, I had decided to pursue hypnotherapy, which I had studied and practiced in San Francisco several years before.

I did not then believe, nor do I now, that hypnotherapy would cure ADHD or ASD.  However, I did eventually find it could be helpful with some specific problems that are often secondary to these disorders. 

And expanding his diet beyond the “white and yellow” has been a decade-long project. 

The problem with swimming, above, was largely because of his reaction to water on his face.

After taking a certification course, I decided that I did not know enough psychology to be an effective hypnotherapist, so I enrolled in a Master of Science program in counseling psychology.

I should stress that the program provided little child psychology, and I was not pursuing psychology as a means for dealing with the HID Kid.  

However, I did start helping ours with sleep problems with hypnosis, which I continued to do until he learned to manage his own sleep challenges with self-hypnosis.

And both hypnosis and mindfulness meditation are very helpful with anxiety, with which HID Kids tend to suffer if for no other reason because they don’t like or understand being different and having problems with their worlds.

KCA and Generation mindfulness have teamed up and would like to help your child gain some mindfulness skills, please click here. 

During the course of the next ten years, as I learned more psychology — got the M.S, and went on to doctoral studies, which included a certificate in clinical hypnosis — especially the neuro-psychology of mindfulness practices.

We helped the Kid learn to alter his state of consciousness with meditation and self-hypnosis, which seemed to help his impulse regulation to some degree.

We have teamed up with Mellisa Dormoy to provide parents with some Moylan sensei was exactly who we needed. (Moylan had a Q & A session in our Facebook Group. Join our group for future parenting talks.

His teaching includes both the techniques of aikido and its fundamental non-aggressive philosophy. 

And, most importantly, was the opportunity to include me with the Kid because I think learning aikido together created a kind of bonding that was important to the Kid’s development. 

Note: one of the things aikido types like to say is that its philosophy is “fall down 7 times, get up 8.” It involves a significant amount of falling and rolling on very firm mats. 

I was 70 when we started (OK, my being 60 when the Kid was born makes us outliers in most categories), and fairly sedentary.

Regular aikido sessions have kept me from getting stiffer and more sedentary with age.  

We had several parents, both genders, and still have a couple in Moylan sensei’s family classes. It is worth the time trouble and occasional bruise or muscle strain to do this with your kid, whether or not he’s high impact. 

Visualize learning when someone grabs your arm to “invite him to a closer connection” as you direct him to the mat and pin him there. 

At 13, Moylan sensei graduated the Kid, and two others, to the regular adult dojo, where they are the youngest members.  And regarded as promising future black belts. 

But of huge significance is the occasions in which one of his peers in school or scouts has attacked him verbally, and he has merely stared them down without resorting to his prior solution, a physical attack

Aikido also led to another important developmental activity for our HID Kid — fencing

The special private school was so small, it had no sports at all, and one summer we were looking for something else to keep him active.

We had been doing a lot of work with the wooden practice weapons that aikido includes — swords and fighting staffs — and I had talked about fencing in my college days, so I looked for and found a class at one of the community centers in Phoenix. 

The Kid took to fencing and is now a member of the Phoenix Falcons Fencing Club, fencing three times a week.  With fencing, aikido and scouts, I do a lot of taxi work now that mom is the primary bread-winner.

The fencing club is another important social function along with scouts and aikido.

His contacts at the club include a range of ages from his to middle-agers that are still fencing, and is something that he owns himself — I did a little coaching when he first started, but although I can manage aikido, the footwork and vision necessary for fencing have kept me from jumping in with him.

And I think that is a good thing.

Camping on his own, and a sport that he owns himself, I believe are significant to his development.

So, am I recommending scouting, aikido and fencing for your HID kids?

Yes and no. I think aikido is a wonderful form of martial art that gives the kid not only the skills for self-protection — don’t let karate and judo types tell you otherwise; the only drawback as a martial art is it takes a lot longer to learn — but ingrains a self-restraint viewpoint critical for kids with impulse control.

Fencing in its own way teaches similar ideas — the etiquette required in the sport, the focus necessary for performance, which is critical in aikido as well, and the bonding with practice partners — all contribute to development. 

And scouting is a socialization opportunity that includes learning self-sufficiency. 

The idea that I am trying to get across, however, is broader. 

The path of least resistance with HID Kid is getting the school’s system’s subpar solution and resigning to your fate.

Maybe the kid’s neurological development will get him somewhat on track later, and maybe not.

You cannot take it for granted, and you have to keep looking for opportunities to put him in situations where he can develop beyond simply being managed.  

Please join our Private Facebook to watch sessions like Sensei Moylan Ryan talk about helping his child who suffered from impulse control.  If you haven’t already joined our Private Facebook Group. please join us now!