One of the most frequent requests I get via e-mail and Facebook messaging is for tips on handling behavior & setting rules/boundaries in a kids yoga class. I’m by no means the biggest expert among us in kids yoga but I have had quite a bit of experience in dealing with a wide variety of behaviors in my work at the JD McCarty Center. Because every situation is unique, I always respond by asking a few questions…..
- How old are the kids in the class?
- How many kids are in the class?
- Do you have any adult helpers?
- Do any of the kids have diagnosed special needs (ADHD, Autism, SPD, anxiety, etc…) that might be a contributing factor to the behavior?
- How long is your class? How long is each activity within your class?
- Where are you teaching the class? Does that setting have any rules that the kids should already be following?
- What time of day is the class?
I primarily work with kids with special needs….. even the inclusive class I did last summer/fall had a few kids with special needs in it. There is a big difference developmentally between the ability of a 4 year old & an 8 year old to understand & follow rules. Many 4 year olds may have limited experience in a structured setting and may just be beginning to learn the concept of following rules. Most kids over the age of 6 or 7 probably understand the concept of following rules if they have been in a school setting.
Why Go To All This Effort?
Helping kids learn positive ways to treat themselves & others is something that will help them well beyond the particular class they are in with you at that moment in time. Think of it as an investment in “planting seeds” in that child’s life. Not all kids grow up in environments that are nurturing & provide positive structure….. so you may have a golden opportunity to help provide a positive influence and learning opportunity.
Yoga is so much more than just “poses” (asanas). It also includes Pranayama (breathing), Mantras (positive affirmations), Mindfulness (focused attention), Relaxation (includes guided imagery) & Yamas/Niyamas (character education).
10 Things I Do:
- I have kids help me write the yoga rules for their yoga class. What rules are important to them? This gives them ownership in the rules since they helped create them. Often they needed a few examples of rules & a simple explanation on “why” that rule was important to get the discussion started. Even for kids who are not at a developmental level to be able to “create” the rules, they could still help choose them out of a field of a few choices. As a fun craft activity, the kids can make a poster of the rules they helped create & then you will have the poster up as a reminder in the class. See an example of a simple 3-rule poster from my friends at Kid Partners (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=273290582744866&set=pb.148298625244063.-220752 0000.1367070208.&type=3&theater)
- I use visual supports and a “social story” (http://omazingkidsllc.com/2012/02/23/3-simple-yoga-class-rules-visual-support/, http://omazingkidsllc.com/2011/11/22/printable-visual-supports-for-kids-yoga/) to help kids understand the rules. More posts about visual supports on my blog: http://omazingkidsllc.com/category/visual-supports/. I tend to keep my “yoga rules” really simple. The main three rules I typically have are:
- Stay on your mat
- Mats stay on the floor. I also make it fun by having the kids pretend to “glue” down the corners of their mat with an imaginary glue stick (learned this tip from a post from Mira at Global Family Yoga)
- And something along the lines of “Use “kind” words” or “We’re always nice to our friends”.
- I have adult “helpers” to help the kids that have more extreme behaviors. This is especially important if you work with kids with special needs. I recently had a child with Autism & schizophrenia in my class and she had very unpredictable & explosive behavior. With the loving support of adult helpers, she ended up having fun participating in our therapeutic kids yoga class at JDMC. See this post: http://omazingkidsllc.com/2012/04/30/tips-for-working-with-kids-with-autism-spectrum-disorders/
- I’ve learned not to be too quick to judge whether or not a particular child is “enjoying” yoga or any other activities. I have seen many kids initially be resistant or ambivalent to yoga and other activities end up loving it when given the opportunity to experience it on their own terms & at their own pace within safe boundaries.
- I tend to ignore behaviors unless they are at risk of hurting themselves or others and keep moving with the class. If the class is fun and you are the most interesting thing in the room, most kids will be engaged with what you are doing. As a general rule of thumb, behaviors that get the most attention are “reinforced” and are more likely to occur again. So I intentionally focus more attention on what kids are doing “right” and give specific praise regarding the on-task & positive behaviors I see kids doing.
- I have also strategically assigned yoga mats so certain kids can’t sit next to each other & the most disruptive kids were right by me. I then assigned them special jobs to be my “helpers”.
- Sometimes it also helps to change up the pace of the class when kids start exhibiting behaviors. I have had kids lose interest if I stayed too long on a particular pose or activity, it was too hard/too easy or it was too overstimulating. I put alot of thought into choosing props & music for classes for this reason…… and depending on how a class is going I will often modify as I go to meet what the kids are needing at that moment.
- I almost always base my classes around a kids picture book. It gives the kids something to pay attention to, they get to “be” part of the story & a book gives structure of having a beginning & an end.
- When I am doing an after-school class, I keep in mind that kids have had to sit all day, may have lots of energy and need to move. One idea is to start out the class with a really upbeat activity to give the kids a chance to get the sillies out. Yoga Freeze Dance is always fave. Then gradually reduce the activity level to calm.
- I keep kids attention spans, developmental levels & special needs in mind when determining the length of my class or any activities I am doing within a class.
Want More Info?
Lisa Flynn’s new book “Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children” is full of great tips!
As of the date of this post, Amazon has it on sale for 39% off (http://www.amazon.com/Yoga-Children-Breathing-Exercises-Meditations/dp/1440554633). There are also some tips on this post on her ChildLight Yoga blog: http://www.thekidsyogaresource.com/2010/11/how-do-i-manage-challenging-behavior-in-a-kids- yoga-class.html.
See these posts for more great ideas:
Angela Moorad, MS, CCC-SLP, IAYT, RCYP-2
Speech-Language Pathologist at the JD McCarty Center for Children with Developmental Disabilities (http://www.jdmc.org/)
Founder of OMazing Kids, LLC – inclusive wellness activities for kids of all abilities
Radiant Child Yoga Certified – Levels 1 & 2
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OMazing Kids LLC is an organization that promotes inclusive wellness activities for kids of all abilities. The blog and social media pages share information about books, DVD’s, CD’s, games and other products specifically designed for kids wellness, mindfulness and relaxation, product reviews & giveaways, lesson plan & activity ideas, research, kids wellness in the news and a connection corner with listings of individuals doing adapted yoga and those offering trainings.
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