DOPAMINE: The Key to Increased Motivation and Focus in Children and Teens | Gentle East Martial Arts
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Erin Elam reviewed Gentle East Martial Arts
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I can’t explain just how amazing this place is! My daughter was born at just 23 weeks, 1lb. She just turned 3, and is doing well but had a long bumpy road. With said, she has some visual impairments, mild cerebral palsy, and severe anxiety issues. We are four classes in now, and although my daughter cries each time we get to the school, the instructors (every single one) ALWAYS treat her like their own and take their time with her. She comes out of class so happy and oh so proud of herself! They do not treat her differently because of her impairments, they are all patient and kind, and above all understanding. We are BEYOND pleased with GEMA, and the staff to include the wonderful families we have met. Thank you GEMA for creating a better world for my daughter!

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An awesome martial arts school that truly cares.

Hillary Hogan reviewed Gentle East Martial Arts
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I have had a blast. I look forward to continuing to learn each form.

Sharon Takai reviewed Gentle East Martial Arts
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We love the instructors and family atmosphere! Thank you!

Kathryn Carson reviewed Gentle East Martial Arts
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I've tried a bunch of martial arts over the years, but it wasn't until I got to Gentle East that I realized that the art itself doesn't matter so much--it's the attitude of its practitioners. These people aren't learning and teaching how to kill, but how to live. How to live despite trauma and illness, and to keep practicing their art even if it's just in their hearts. The tenets are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit, and they mean every word. They teach the kids that other dojangs won't. Autistic, physically challenged, special needs, you name it. They're fully engaged with the messy business of life. A whole lot of families are glad that Master Barbara Robinson followed her vision. Ours is one.

Melody D. Choate reviewed Gentle East Martial Arts
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Love, love, love this place! The staff is incredibly kind and supportive, and the family atmosphere is palpable the moment you walk in the door! I am so impressed with the work being done with autism spectrum kids, as well as other kids with physical challenges. No one is made to feel like they don't belong here! I even joined the mommy class and my toddlers are allowed to run around us while we work out. I've lost a few pounds, and gained some amazing (non-judgemental) mom-friends! An oasis of kindness and support in the middle of what is often a 'keep up with the Jones's " area of town.

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DOPAMINE: The Key to Increased Motivation and Focus in Children and Teens

Have you ever wondered why children and teens seem to be so addicted to their smartphones and other devices? Parents are frustrated with their children’s lack of attention and motivation but what do their devices have to do with this? The answer is found in science!

Often referred to as the “motivator molecule,” dopamine is a “feel good” chemical that is released in the brain which helps us focus and feel motivated. When dopamine levels are low, it can result in symptoms such as difficulty focusing, decreased motivation, trouble problem-solving, and social anxiety. Therefore, many ADHD medications target dopamine levels.

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When children and teens have low dopamine levels, we often find that they spend more time on video games and smartphone apps, and some tend to be thrill seekers. These things give a boost of dopamine, which makes them feel good and then leads to them seeking out more of the same thing. This constant boost of dopamine keeps them coming back for more.

The reason is because dopamine is part of the reward pathway of the brain. When something is interesting or exciting, a surge of dopamine rushes to the brain. Much like the excitement we feel when we are preparing for a trip or waiting for dessert, the anticipation of receiving a reward tells the brain to release dopamine. This release tells our brain that this event is worth getting more of. And so, the cycle begins.

The great thing about dopamine is that it can help modify behavior in a positive way, when done correctly. Because of the pleasure that dopamine makes us feel, we are more motivated to learn and, therefore, we retain information better. This is because the dopamine creates new neurological pathways in the brain. When we find activities that are pleasurable, we learn more from them and keep doing them.

Now that we understand the neuroscience surrounding dopamine, how can we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with children, use this information? We must create a learning environment that is exciting and produces the “anticipation of accomplishment.”

The Martial Arts curriculum that we have developed at Gentle East Martial Arts does this by teaching with the brain in mind and utilizing game-based learning. Along with this, two of the Teaching Skills that are used in class are specifically designed to increase the students’ dopamine levels.

1) Trickery: The use of “trickery” as a teaching skill in class helps the students focus, which ultimately leads to better listening skills. For example, when playing a game and the students are waiting for the instructor to say “go,” the instructor can trick the students by saying “goose” or “go-cart” instead. This excites the students but also motivates them to listen better and, therefore, be more focused.

2) Intrinsic Motivation: The use of “intrinsic motivation” in class helps the students become more motivated, which leads to more confidence. For example, to get students more motivated from within, the instructor can say “You only have to do 5 pushups but if you want to be a Black Belt do 10 pushups, if you want to be a master do 5 pushups, but if you want to make me and your parents proud and show you are the best student, do 20 pushups.”

By utilizing these techniques, students get a rush of dopamine because they anticipate the events in class, stay focused, listen better, and are motivated to do their best. They feel good in class and they come back wanting more!

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