Missives From the Mat 18: When Kids Don’t Like Yoga…

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Below is an actual letter I wrote to a supervisor of an after-school program.  All identifying content has been edited.

For reference, I have the kids bow and say “namaste” to one another for kindnesses AND interruptions; it helps to bring awareness to the habits and personal responsibility for behaviors and it also helps us not hold grudges; it helps us all see that we are connected and we can still be together even if we are disruptive.

This interrupting namaste practice is akin to “careful what you wish for” — in the words of Jerry Seinfeld during a Q&A after “I’m Telling You For The Last Time” who was interrupted by a shout from the crowd, what kind of attention do you want? … It went like this:

Voice: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY.
Jerry: Oh… Well, happy birthday… Which birthday is it?
Voice: I’m not saying.

Jerry: Oh, ok. So you want attention, but not too much attention.

The interrupting namaste bow draws attention and personal accountability to the interrupter in a way that the interrupter might not like. It’s having a positive effect for the most part.

However, if you as an adult JUST LOOOOOVE your yoga, it’s changed your life, and you think it’s what your kid needs, please pay attention to your child, please accept that your child is NOT you and if you still don’t get it, read this first:

“Dear Bipsy,

Disruption prevention initiatives at XYZ school are moving along, but we are at a point where parental intervention is necessary.

All of the children at LMNOP school yoga are wonderful and bright.

As you know, I’ve tried various interventions to bring a sense of personal responsibility and mindful behavior to all my classes, ABC school in particular with mixed results. The sniffing essential oils on the cotton puffs is very popular for most of the kids; they really enjoy it during final relaxation.

Before class at Saturn (Thursday) I went to a craft store to look for more Mandala posters to color. The kids have been working on a poster while we wait for our room to be ready, and it’s coming along. I also wanted to get something to incentivize Bandersnatch and Clementine to lessen their disruptions. I found a rubber hand stamp, a “Sun” for Bandersnatch — so that when she raises his hand (instead of blurting out, shoving students and shouting), the “sun will come up and shine on us all.”

When Bandersnatch walked into the cafeteria to check in, he was energized and defensive, and said in a sing-songy yet robotic way, “Hi. I don’t want to be here.” I suspect it was because she got so upset in the prior class for my mentioning his earning 14 “namaste” bows for interrupting. I showed him the sun stamp and told it I selected it for him, especially. I showed her the other stamps the other kiddos could have — cat, dog, paw, or bee — for their hands. Bandersnatch seemed genuinely enthused about it. She *briefly* joined in the coloring, got interested in something else, and then it was time to line up.

He dashed ahead of everyone and then marched into the room, resuming her defensiveness from 5 minutes prior, and grew agitated and excited chanting “I don’t want to be here… I don’t want to be here… I don’t want to be here…” with increasing intensity again and again and again as she was unrolling her mat. Other kids started to join in. It almost became a mob cry. One time, Bandersnatch hit me in the face with his paw as she was flapping the mat around saying what she was saying; then she RAN to another child’s mat to “help” it with its mat, even though Bandersnatch was not asked.

I get it. She was acting out. But it was verging on dangerous for the other kids and unacceptable in terms of decorum.

I had to stop Bandersnatch, placing my hands on her shoulders and asked him to look at me. “What do you do when you hit someone in the face?”

Bandersnatch said, “Say you’re sorry.”

I said, “Bandersnatch, you hit me in the face when you were flapping your mat around…”

Bandersnatch said, “Sorry.”

I said, “Just like thanking someone for what they’ve done for you, you need to apologize for what you did to someone else; you say, ‘I’m sorry I hit you in the face, it was an accident,’” and so he nodded but didn’t say that and went back to buzzing around like a dragonfly.

I had to look for my chimes, which were a bit hard to find because it all happened so fast, and loudly rang them five times. When Bandersnatch became quiet and we were in circle, she said “I want my mother.” I think he was really afraid of what would happen in class again; that I would count all his interrupting namaste bows like I did last week (when he got to 14) and that upset him. But I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen again. But Bandersnatch does not like being held accountable.

It’s my impression that Bandersnatch seems to REALLY not like the idea of yoga. Sitting still for him is antithetical to who she is, at this point in his development. But I also get that kids are kids, so I do lots of moving around, but when we do that, she gets very animated and ends up losing his balance / sense of space and her body, intentionally as in “isn’t this fun, let’s fall down! watch me fall down!” way and it’s not good. Her friend Minerva is in the yoga class too, and Minerva is disturbed by Bandersnatch’s disruptions.

Bandersnatch told me his parent meditates and that he wants to meditate too, but his parent says she needs to learn yoga first before meditating. Just so you know, no, that’s not necessary. It’s Bandersnatch’s parent’s preference and likely a learned appreciation based on the fact that yoga was invented as exercise before sitting in meditation … 3,000 years ago. But no, you don’t need yoga to meditate. Some kids just know, and they crave sitting in the quiet.

With the sun stamp, which he was proud of when I placed it on her hand, Bandersnatch was very self-aware and raised its hand. I would smile and high-five him for raising her hand.

Bandersnatch’s “interrupting namaste” score has usually been in the low teens; this particular day, it was at 8, so it’s getting better. It stayed at 4, for about 20 minutes, and then Bandersnatch went a little loopy and blew it… It’s ok, the count stayed at 8 and beat last week’s count by 6, so that’s good.

Clementine is very active and Bandersnatch doesn’t like how she’s very twitchy and makes sounds, regularly gets off his mat, rolls it up, does somersaults when no one else is, and touches / bumps kids and doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t hold poses and simply checks out, so I decided to move Clementine next to Bandersnatch so they can sort of “train” each other. They are mirrors of each other. It sort of works, and so I’ll keep at it. Clementine is sitting next to Percival also, who is very rules oriented, so it’s a peer pressure type of energy.

Clementine’s reaction to the namaste interruption count is laughter. It’s anxiety and I get it. She’s a sweet, optimistic and cheerful child; he wants to have positive social experiences. That said, she makes lots of noises: buzzes, tweets, squeaks, he rocks, he just *won’t* do the poses. He racked up 14 “namastes” on Thursday. During savasana, she made seagull noises (I was doing a visual meditation — they were on a beach) and it scared Teensy, the kindergartener. Then Clementine put her feet in Bandersnatch’s face, so I made him sit up against the wall cross-legged. He’s very compliant, she wants to please, but she’s very animated. Just can’t figure it out.

So the disruption count on Thursday, for a 50-minute class, was 22. Twenty-two times that the behavior was so disruptive that I decided I had to stop what I was doing, lose my train of thought, and had to correct them; 22 times that 6 other kids had to endure.

I apologize for the length of this, but I wanted to give you detail and ask you to step in and communicate on my behalf with Clementine’s and Bandersnatch’s parents to encourage them to sit down with their children, talk to them, and explain to them that their behavior in yoga is unacceptable and that it has to stop. I will text Voldemort the next time it happens and I will ask her to remove the kids; it’s not fair to everyone else.

Thanks for your help,

Molly”

Dear reader: If this letter has helped you see that maybe your child isn’t into yoga yet, your kid, its friends, and a children’s yoga teacher somewhere is thanking you.

Thank you.

Whatcha Think, Smahtypants?

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