Character Chats

What is Initiative?

What is initiative?

Here at True Balance Karate in Downers Grove, Illinois, we have a social emotional learning program called True Character. I’m Master H, owner and chief instructor here at the studio. I was a special ed teacher for 15 years and I have two master’s degrees in education. And we have developed this program to best meet the needs of our youngest students who are three or four, and our oldest student, who’s 85.

And this month, we are talking about initiative. When I talk with our younger students and I ask them, “Have you been taking initiative at home?”, a lot of them have this blank look or, “I don’t even know what that word means. What is Initiative, Master H?” I get all of those kinds of questions.

And the best way I can come up with to define it for them is, if you see something laying out at home, let’s say you see some books lying on the table and you know where they go, do you take it upon yourself to pick them up and put them away? Or do you leave them sitting there? And usually, they tell me that they leave them sitting there. And I said, “Well, when you choose to put them away, that’s your initiative. Doing something without being told, taking that initiative. You see what needs to be done and you just do it.” Sometimes we talk about from the standpoint of if you’ve got things that are sitting at the bottom of the stairs and it’s very obvious that they’re supposed to go up the stairs, do you take it with you as you’re walking up the stairs or do you leave it there for somebody else to pick up after you, right? We make a mess. Do you take the initiative to clean it up?

Master Helsdon, my husband, he likes to talk about dogs. Dogs are one of his favorite animals. And the dog knocks over the water dish, they can’t get the paper towels and pick it up. So are you just going to leave it sit there, or are you going to take the initiative to help clean up the mess? Because, obviously, the dogs can’t do it. And the kids start to understand that it’s about practicing your awareness for the world around you. It’s about having your eyes open and seeing what you can do to make the world a better place. That’s your initiative.

So when we’re talking about it from the standpoint of three to six, three to seven-year-olds, those are the examples that we share with them. And all of the things that they need to do to show initiative need to be age-appropriate. When my little ones, they’re not little anymore, but when they were four and seven, and even younger than that back when the oldest was four, one of the rules in the house was that when you were done eating, you took your plate to the sink. And it was that small chore that helped them to see the bigger picture. And that was that, if my plate goes in the sink, then my brother’s plate goes in the sink and mom and dad’s plate goes in the sink. And then one day, one of them said, “Hey, can I take that for you to the sink?” That’s showing initiative.

But it was a matter of teaching them these age-appropriate skills. Are you finished with those toys? Then let’s put them back where they go. And then all of a sudden they realize that other things had places too. Where does this go? Where does that go? And it’s a skill that grows over time. It’s a skill that, as their maturity grows, their initiative grows. And then when they hit double digits, now they have to show more initiative. They have to show initiative for taking care of their schoolwork, writing down their homework assignments, coming home and getting that schoolwork done. They have to show initiative and ask questions when they don’t understand the material.

Now we’re getting into initiative being advocacy skills. What are you not understanding? How do you need help? That can be a form of initiative too. And then we move into high school age. You have group projects, you have more things going on, sports happening. There’s a lot of initiative, a lot of things that need to be taken care of. And they’re taking on more and more responsibility for their lives because they’re about to head off into college. They’re seeing what needs to be done, they’re taking care of it. They still need guidance, they still need coaching, they still need all of those things, but it’s a skill that grows as they grow. And then of course, us adults, there’s nobody picking up behind us. We have to show initiative in everything we do. We have to show initiative to make sure all the people get where they need to be. We have to get to work, kids have to get to school, animals, pets have to get to vet appointments. We have to take the initiative to make all of those appointments, take care of all those things.

So from that standpoint, our whole world is about taking initiative, advocating for what we need, making sure that things get done. And if we start to teach these skills when they’re younger, they become team players. And if we’ve taken on some of those initiative skills, then as we get older, stuff just goes naturally back where it goes and we become more efficient in what we’re doing. So as we’re talking about initiative this month, we’re starting off defining it. We’re going to talk about what stops ourselves from showing initiative, we’re going to set some goals, and we’re going to talk about how to make initiative better for everyone around us.

Thanks, and I’ll see you on the mat!


True Balance Karate was founded in 2012 by Master Sue and Paul Helsdon.

We offer kids karate lessons for pre-school children ages 3-6 and elementary age kids ages 7 and up. These lessons are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need — specialized for their age group — for school excellence and later success in life.

Our adult martial arts training is a complete adult fitness and conditioning program for adults who want to lose weight, get (and stay) in shape, or learn self-defense in a supportive environment.

Instructors can answer questions or be contacted 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week at 630-663-2000. You can also contact us here. z