Aikido has the benefits of martial arts training: good physical conditioning and the generation of confidence, politeness, consideration, energy, tenacity and an open mind -- all qualities of character to be carried into one's daily life. Moreover many of the performing arts and regular sports are greatly benefited by martial arts training in general and Aikido in particular.
Children and adults learn to respond to situations (and not only those of self-defense!) with compassion, decisiveness and appropriate force. This is because Aikido engenders an attitude of cooperation beyond the usual camaraderie of training with others, given its high ethical basis in protecting from harm both the attacker as well as the attacked.
In Aikido confidence comes from knowing one can completely neutralize an attack without excessive force, while maintaining a mind which is peaceful and therefore effective. An Aikido student can be much smaller, slower or weaker than a dangerous adversary and yet be effective. Practitioners find that it is safer to escape from holds and to execute throws, strikes, sweeps and pins by working in balance with the attacker's intention and energy rather than by attempting to fight against them.
While teaching children punching and kicking can be a valuable discipline in itself, the small size and power of children generally makes it ineffective for self-protection at their age. Also, teaching children self-defense as a competitive sport and giving them a false sense of effectiveness by handing them "black belts" at a tender age is, we feel, dangerous to their social well being. Should they ever find themselves in a threatening situation, it will certainly not be like a match on the mat. An attacker will not be impressed by the fact that the intended victim has a black belt. And, depending only on kicking and punching could lead to serious consequences because the assailants may be much larger than the child. Equally important, children should be able to learn self-protection skills (most importantly: awareness and avoidance!) as a by-product of a disciplined yet fun learning environment: there should be only minimal talk of "street" situations or violence: we feel that discussing street situations is only appropriate in our teen and adult classes.
Aikido concentrates on those aspects of self-protection which are in keeping with the child's size and mental and emotional capacity. Aikido is therefore more likely to help them survive a dangerous situation. Self-protection for children should emphasize their awareness of surroundings and their own feelings. It should also teach how to escape from holds and strikes. This is a major component of children's Aikido training.
One aspect of Aikido training we do not cover until children are teenagers is the application of joint locks, as their joints are still growing and vulnerable. Aside from that, children have access to most of our techniques, including elementary interactive weapons work.