|Amtgard Parenting Thoughts
[09/10/2010] [Okami Cio Cio]
A long time ago (when I was 18, and far from being a parent), I offered to run the ministry of children in my local SCA group. What that defaulted to was that I did arts and crafts and watched the kids while court was going on. Soon I became unpaid babysitter all day. I got out of the position when my Baroness realized that some of these parents were taking advantage of me! She made it mandatory for the parents to each do a turn as Minister of Children. Luckily, there was a new parent in the area who really helped invigorate the others, and it worked out in the end.
My son is a second-generation Amtgarder. Currently, he's organizing a jugging league up here with some buddies. He fights, does the odd service work, knows the basics of how to sew a tunic, and could probably pass a reeve's test. (though not a corpora test!) He's 15. He's been playing Amtgard for over 10 years.
Through all these experiences, and my large and sprawling "family", I still get a chance now and then to do a little Amtgard babysitting. As a parent, a curmudgeon and a pedant, I've got some pretty good ideas about how to handle this whole hobby parenting thing. So I thought I'd pass my observations and tricks on.
The baby/toddler years:
Having an active hobby life and a baby is indeed possible. In fact, getting baby used to all the people, sounds and activities is a good way to develop good socializing skills later on. Babies are of course a goodly amount of work, and being prepared can make the whole experience so much easier. Dress baby in layers, bring along snacks, blankets and bedding for the impromptu nap, and keep some favorite toys on hand.
Recruit some friends to help, but don't do it at the drop of a hat. Take a moment and ask them if they wouldn't mind helping out with holding and tending baby when you are at the park. They'll appreciate that you thought to ask in advance, and you'll get an idea by their response who's gonna be the most help. However, don't take an offer or agreement to help as slave labor, and when folks do help, thank them. Once baby starts moving, there's a lot more work. As you move into the toddling stage, babies can be a lot quicker than you'd expect. Again, it's good to take an effort to recruit some friends to help keep an eye on baby when escapes start happening.
One of the best things you can teach your little one, once they start understanding speech commands, is "Hold!" Sounds silly, but I've stopped kids from running into traffic with it! As they start to understand things like boundaries, reinforce with them frequently that they need to stay off the combat field. I remember one Rakis chasing a small group of kids out of a castle battle and screamin' like a harpy when I did so. Kids get excited and simply "forget" the rules we use to keep them out of harm's way. Reminding them may make you a nag, but it will keep them from getting squished.
While they're still small enough to need supervision, but big enough to get bored, a bunch of stuff to keep them occupied is vital. You probably have a bag or other tool you carry your gear in. Make or buy one for them. They'll feel cool to be like their parents, and you have a way of helping them prepare for Amtgard. Creating a ritual of them checking their bag and otherwise prepping for Amtgard will not only help keep them occupied at the park, it will make going to the park in the first place easier! (Toddler wrangling is a challenge and toddlers respond pretty well to rituals.) Again, remember snacks and beverages! (I try to pick up junk toys at garages sales and the like to give away to kids at the park. It's funny how excited a kid can get over a crappy happy meal toy, or a new bottle of bubbles.)
"Big!" kid years.
As soon as they are able, your kid might want to fight. Size, coordination, ability to pay attention to the rules and the general behaviors at your park will determine when it's safe for your kid to be on the field. If you're lucky, there will be other kids in the park of a similar age, and they will be able to spar and play together. If you've got the only child, get ready for "why can't I fight?" Teaching your kid field safety is vital. Getting them trained in responding to "hold" and teaching them the basic rules of fighting and battlefield awareness will make this transition period easier. While you and the monarch are waiting for your child to be old enough, big enough and careful enough to participate, talk with the reeves, spell casters and archers about getting your kid permission to be a field page and pick up spent equipment.
I know of parents who required their kid to be able to explain the rules, define a hit and know their class before their child was allowed on the field. Yes, I know that the rules say a child must be 14 to play Amtgard, unless they have monarch and parent permission. Personally, I agree with that rule, and I also think each kid is different. Being raised around Amtgard makes a huge difference as to when a child will be ready to play.
By now, your kid is used to taking their own equipment and stuff to keep them busy. Remember though, it's easier to double check them than to expect they'll be responsible. That way you can be proud that they remember their personal equipment. There are lots of other motivators for kids. Praise, respect and rewards all can make a huge difference. Our son ran his first quest at 11. He's been good about helping keep younger and smaller kids entertained. He's been recognized for his efforts as well, thanks to monarchs who realized that just because someone is young doesn't mean he shouldn't get awards for his service.
Once you do feel your kid is ready to fight on the field, remember they still may get hurt. Your being present and attentive to what your child is doing can only go so far to safeguard them from harm. Accidents happen and injuries in any sport with physical combat are common. I've been on the receiving end of a few arrows to the eye, spear at full force to the throat, and a number of scrapes and bruises. Last year, my son had another Amtgarder lose their balance and fall on him, breaking his wrist in multiple places. As I said earlier, he still fights. In fact, he was eager to get his cast off so he could get back on the field.
If you are fortunate enough to have a park with a number of other kids and parents, developing a "kid's club" or whatever you want to call it can be a great benefit. Taking turns to do the babysitting and giving each other a chance to get out on the field can be a great way of enjoying Amtgard and building friendships. Remember, though, other Amtgarders are not your nannies. No one wants to be gossiped about as the shiftless parents who expect everyone else to take care of their rude, unruly children.
Kids will be kids. Your being involved in their hobby may turn them off from it. My best advice is to give them a little space. Let them define their Amtgard experience. Of course, it can be hard, especially if you've had a wild youth, to watch your little baby try all the things you did. I'm in no way advocating any style of parenting, but I do believe that being honest with your child, treating them with respect, and being a little flexible on boundaries will make a difference in how difficult those trying teenage years can be. Personally, I'd rather my kid try all the things he's likely to try while I'm able to give insight and advice than go off and try them in secret and possibly more dangerous venues.
Amtgard has been a great "carrot" for us in training our child. It's helped in teaching behavior modification, manners, fair play and attitude, both with good and bad examples. Ashitaka has been fighting since he was 4. He has been fighting on the field since he was around 8 or 9. He has been fighting in tournaments for a few years now. He has been to a number of SKBCs, Rakises, and other interkingdom events. Most of his friends are Amtgarders. That has benefits. It means I know who his friends are and what he's likely to be doing with them. I also have spies to his behavior when I'm not around.
The family that plays together really has a good chance of staying together. Sharing a hobby like Amtgard can make for some pretty good bonding experiences. I know that my Amtgard experience is enriched by my family. I hope yours can as well.
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