As a former school counselor, LFY teacher Jess Belanger has a unique perspective to share with us. She will be contributing a monthly article to our conversation, offering information to help parents and teacher support their kids. Click Here to learn more about Jess and all of our LFY teachers.
In our adult lives, it is inevitable that we find ourselves in situations where we are required to interact with others. Whether in the work place or while out with friends, collaboration through group work, involvement at social functions, or even a quick exchange of dialogue in the parking lot can be a regular daily occurrence. For those who are extroverts and perhaps even social butterflies, having contact with others and participating in organized activities is greatly welcomed. However, for those who are more shy, private, and independent, group interaction can be intimidating, anxiety provoking and downright stressful.
As adults, we have had years to find appropriate coping mechanisms to handle these situations, but children are often not so lucky. When faced with stressful situations such as organized activities, many kids will turn inward and avoid participating at all costs. From both a parent and teacher’s perspective, it is imperative to identify children who may be struggling, determine where their apprehension may be coming from, and work towards helping them become an involved member of the group.
The most important step in determining which children may need some support or encouragement when working with a group is simple: observe your child or student’s behavior. Parents, perhaps you know your child to be extremely shy or timid and often have to push them to try new activities. In the classroom, maybe you notice that your students are withdrawn or even refuse to participate when working in groups. Taking a few moments to observe a more reserved child can be extremely telling. Next, think about why might they be so closed off or anxious when interacting with others? While sometimes it could just be the child’s natural personality, in other cases it may be time to investigate and if possible, offer a comforting, helping hand.
Whether you are a parent or teacher, once you have identified a child that you think could use a little encouragement within a group setting, begin with baby steps to make them feel more comfortable and willing to participate. Ask your child or student their thoughts about the upcoming activity. When the activity is in progress, check to make sure the child is sitting with the group and not off to the side. Even though they may not want to participate in every activity, providing them with a feeling of inclusion will often encourage them to eventually join in. Give them some responsibility, such as keeping time during a group activity or turning the light down for savasana. Let each child know that their presence and participation matters, and maybe they will begin to find their own voice.
While these ideas for group inclusion and participation can be applied across the board to classroom activities, home play groups, and organized sports, they are especially relevant within the yoga room. During class, children are provided with a safe, comfortable group environment in which they can gain valuable social skills while also focusing on developing their own self-awareness and skills. When working with students, it is imperative that yoga teachers be mindful of each student’s level of engagement, and when it proves to be a bit more difficult to engage students that are reserved, try to find a subtle way to let them know that you value their input. After a few sessions, if you are still unsuccessful at reaching such a student, connect with their parent or guardian, academic teacher, or school counselor. There might be an underlying issue that requires deeper investigation and as a team, you may be able to help a child when they need it most.
This meditation is a favorite for many children. When you are really focusing in on the practice, it is an exciting way to feel the energy that makes up the entire natural world (including us!) right in our hands. This activity offers such a concrete way to know if your mind is wandering. As soon as you take your mind off of the meditation, you won’t be able to feel the energy in your hands!
1. Sit on your mat, with your body tall and relaxed. Take a few full breaths to settle your body and your mind, and then close your eyes.
2. Bring your hands together and begin to rub your palms vigorously. Continue to rub faster and faster until your hands feel warm, then slowly stop rubbing and keep your palms together.
3. Imagine that between your hands is a very tiny but very bright and strong ball of light and energy. As you take a full breath in, very, very slowly separate your hands and imagine that ball of light growing and expanding, filling your hands with energy. (If you are modeling this for your child, let your hands come to about the width of your body.)
4. When you are ready to breathe out, gently and slowly push your hands back together, squeezing that ball of light until it gets very small.
5. Continue expanding your energy ball as you breathe in and squeezing it together as you breathe out, keeping the rest of your body as still as you can.
6. Try practicing Expanding- Energy Meditation for about two minutes the first time you try it, and then a little bit longer each time after that.
Follow- up: When you finish this meditation, ask your child what she felt. Often she will be completely shocked at how strongly she could feel the energy in her hands. Common responses are that the hands felt warm, that it felt like there were magnets pulling them together, that they felt tingly, and that the ball got heavier and heavier.
Challenges: If your child (or you) is having trouble feeling the energy in her hands, don’t worry! When we aren’t used to feeling something it can take a little bit of time to find it. Every once in a while children say that they couldn’t feel anything during this practice; this is a typical response when they moved their hands too quickly or separated them too far during the exercise. It should take the entire length of your inhalation to bring your hands apart, and they should end up about body width. It should also take the entire length of your exhalation to push them back together. Some children need to practice for a little bit longer to start feeling the energy, so if your child agrees, try again for three or four minutes and see how it goes. Make sure that you aren’t pressuring your child to feel something that she doesn’t feel. Try to avoid making suggestions about what she might be feeling, or she may start to feel like she is doing something wrong.
Daily Practice: While Expanding- Energy Meditation will usually be practiced during a yoga session, if your child seems to connect with this practice you might suggest that she try it anytime she feels disconnected from the world around her.