by Lauren Chaitoff
One of the biggest differences between teaching kids’ yoga and adult yoga falls in the area of classroom management. I teach yoga to both adults and kids, and I know there are times in adult classes where practitioners come in late, disturbing the class, or forget to turn off their mobile devices. However, for the most part, if we politely ask the adult yoga practitioners to follow class rules, they typically abide. (Yes, there are exceptions to this, too, yet that is a topic for another post!) On the other hand, for those of you that have worked with or plan to work with kids, you know it is not always easy to ask a child to behave a certain way and expect that child to listen and change his or her behavior.
How do you discipline in a kids’ yoga class? This is a question I often asked myself when I first began teaching yoga to kids (and it is a question I still ponder often)! When I instruct a kids’ yoga class it is quite important for me that my classes echo a warm, playful and loving vibration. At the beginning of my teaching experience I was oftentimes fearful that being too strict or firm with children would create the opposite effect and unsettle both my working relationship with a particular child and the class at large. As a novice kids’ yoga teacher I was definitely a softie, and the kids no doubt took that dispositional fact to their advantage. The games of tag and cat-and-mouse (which is really just another name kids made up for tag) would sometimes overtake my classes. I strived to create a space of respect, compassion and acceptance, yet I was struggling to find a sustainable balance between my warm and open instructing style and a loosely structured atmosphere marked by boundaries and limits in order to facilitate a class order beneficial to all young participants.
I remember the ‘AHA’ moment when I realized my disciplinary techniques (or lack thereof) were not working. In one particular class, the kids were playing cat-and-mouse, and after politely asking them to sit back down on their mats I finally lost it. I snapped and screamed “STOP IT AND SIT DOWN NOW!” (Insert some very angry emoji.) Immediately, after shouting, I heard a voice in my head say, “Lauren, this is a yoga class – that was not peaceful or more importantly, effective.” I knew I needed better tools to handle such situations.
After that class I began to collect all types of information on how to discipline kids with respect and compassion. Through books, editorial and speaking with an array of teachers and parents, the most important takeaway follows: it is not so much what we say, but how we say it that matters. Books such as, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish, Planting Seeds by Thich Nhat Hanh and No Drama Discipline by Dan J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson all helped me create a blueprint for dealing with difficult behavior. (Many of the tips in the aforementioned book are not exclusive to children and can be used in your adult relationships too!)
Below are a few of my most favorite tips for creating effective discipline techniques in your kids’ yoga class:
- Connect With the Child: Before attempting to solve a problem, or redirect the issue, the first thing we ought to do is connect with the child. Connection can be as simple as kneeling so you and the child are physically looking at each other eye-to-eye, or by offering a gentle and loving touch on his or her shoulder. Through connection we can begin to soothe wild-tempered emotion. A child will generally be more receptive to listening and learning once that initial connection is made.
- Acknowledge Feelings While Setting Limits: No matter how old we are we all want our feelings acknowledged and validated. Listening attentively helps a child feel respected and heard. Sometimes it can be helpful to personify feelings themselves by giving a feeling a name. For example, “Eddie, it seems like this game is frustrating to you.” While it is important to acknowledge feelings, certain actions must be limited. For example, “Michelle, I can see you want to ring the bell. You will have a chance to ring the bell and then we will pass the bell around to the rest of the class.”
- Speak in the Affirmative: More often than not, when trying to get kids to listen, we tell them what not to do. The words “stop,” “do not” and “cannot” are used all too frequently, and child behavioral experts advise that we instead speak in the affirmative, rather than using negative words, which often lead to less effective behavioral outcomes. Instead of “Ryan, do not stand on Chloe’s mat,” consider “Ryan please stand on your mat.” When we speak in the positive we invite children to continue acting in a receptive and open environment while precisely addressing the behavior in need of limiting.
- Give Children Choices: Many times kids are told what to do, how to do it and where to go. Allowing children to make their own choice(s) is empowering and yields a feeling of autonomy, which can positively affect development and thus behavioral outcomes. The choices you offer children need to be something you as the adult can live with either way. For example, “Ethan, I can see you want to lead the class. You can either lead the Sun Salutations and I lead the Warrior poses, or you lead the Warrior poses and I lead the Sun Salutations. Which choice do you prefer?”
After years of teaching I feel more confident in my ability to control a class while keeping the atmosphere playful and open. Still, I have my moments where I just cannot connect with a child (or class), resulting in my frustration. Sometimes I may discipline in a way I am not proud of by either raising my voice or not successfully connecting with a child. In these instances, it is important to forgive yourself and let the child know that you are sorry for losing your temper or not addressing a circumstance in an optimal way. To be sure, always come from a place of compassion. A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Planting Seeds sums it up nicely: “There are no difficult children. Only children in difficult situations.”
Yogi Beans regularly offers 25-hr kids yoga teacher training in NYC – next session is the weekend of May 15-17th (early bird rate expires 4/17/2015). For the full schedule and pricing info visit their website, or to register call Yogi Beans at 212-585-2326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Chaitoff is a mind-body-fitness expert and founder of Yogi Beans, a company devoted solely to teaching yoga to children of all ages in and around New York City. In 2010, she fortuitously met Alexa Klein, Yogi Beans’ CEO & Co-Owner, and the two united to open Yogi Beans Kids Yoga Studio in NYC. Lauren currently oversees and trains the stellar Yogi Beans Instructor team, leads regular Yogi Beans’ public teacher trainings, and teaches weekly classes to beans of all ages. She continuously evolves Yogi Beans’ programming from her extensive experiences in the classroom, on her mat and through her love and nurturing of her own baby bean, Vivienne Bell. Find Yogi Beans on facebook and follow them on twitter @YogiBeans.