By Shakta Khalsa
I receive many questions from people teaching yoga to children. One issue that comes up is what to do when a child becomes frustrated because she thinks she isn’t doing it ‘perfectly.’
Question: How do you deal with children who become frustrated when they aren’t able to do some of the asanas or keep their eyes closed during meditation? Do you have any tips? Some children become angry with themselves when they can’t perform perfectly. I have tried all sorts of different approaches and would love to hear your advice.
Thanks for wanting to share the gifts of yoga with children! Here are some ideas that may help:
1. Look for something that they are doing well and use descriptive praise, not evaluative (“You really focused on your breath during that pose, Jenny, did you notice that it was easier to do the pose?).
2. Children play at yoga. If you have the attitude that it is okay if it is not “perfect,” they will relax too. Let them see that you don’t do yoga perfectly (whatever that is).
3. Depending on their ages and their experience with feeling safe, closing eyes may be difficult. You can give them the experience of what it feels like to hear their breath with the eyes open. Then have them close their eyes and hear their breath. A good way to do this is by using what we in Radiant Child Yoga call the Balloon Breath.* After experiencing the balloon breath with eyes open, then closed, it may be a good time to ask, “Did you notice your breath more with your eyes open or closed?” Most likely they will say closed, so that is a good time to explain that we close our eyes to feel the yoga from the inside out. Then I would leave it up to them to decide which they liked better (for now–it can always change).
3. Alternative to closing eyes: If they don’t want to close eyes or have difficulty once they have the experience of it, I would give them the option to use the Twilight Gaze, which is looking out toward the ground in front with the eyes partially closed, eyes and face relaxed.
4. There’s lots more that could help! I’ve been working with children and yoga for over 30 years. You may love the Radiant Child Yoga training. If you cannot get to the training right now because you live at a distance, you can download audio courses I’ve taught. Or look for a trainer in your state/country. Good luck and blessings!
* Balloon Breath is simply explaining how our lungs are like balloons—they get smaller when we breathe out, and larger when we breathe in. Then you teach the children to use the breath while creating the shape of the balloon with the arms lifting up from the sides until the hands meet overhead on the inhalation. Then as we exhale, the arms come back down the sides. For children who are just becoming aware of the breath, you can have them exhale by blowing out from the mouth. It is a more obvious way to experience the breath than breathing through the nose.
Shakta Khalsa is one of the world’s leading experts on children and yoga, having worked with both since the mid-1970s. She is a trained yoga professional at the highest level (ERYT-500), and was named one of the top five Kundalini Yoga teachers in the world by Yoga Journal.