Managing Bad Behavior in a Kids Yoga Class

| by

We've all had children with challenging behavior in our classes, whether in school or in the studio.  And we all know just how much this behavior can take your class off task if we allow it to. Recently, I received the following email from a former trainee and thought I would share it with you, along with my response.

 "I need some suggestions for reigning in an unruly child.  I teach a group of six 6-yr olds.  It is a 30-min after-school club.  No parents attend.  I have one child that refuses to participate, runs around the classroom, yells at other children to stop staring at her and is just rude.  The moment the stamps come out, she pushes to be first and is generally not nice.  I am at a complete loss.  She is getting worse each class and disrupts the flow of the class, which is already very short.  This is the second session she has signed up for and we still have several classes left.  I would like to be able to include her in a peaceful way so that she can benefit from the class.  Any suggestions?"

1) One of the yoga class rules is that we must stay on our mats for safety (unless otherwise directed).  I do tell the story of the boy who 'forgot' the rule, came off his mat, and turned around and tripped and broke his tooth...not to frighten them, but to get across the importance of and reason for the rule.  Then together we rub glue all over ourselves and roll around on top of our mats to 'paste' them to the floor.  Then, we use our hands to pat the mat down.  Both of these activities are quite grounding!  

2)  Have consequences set up if the rules can not be followed. 3 warnings rule works pretty well.  Remind the child/ren that he/she has a CHOICE.  And be okay with their choice- stay unattached to any particular outcome.  You will get a child who opts to sit aside and watch rather than participate (for the time being).  Be okay with that.  
3)  Respect is also a BIG rule.  What does that mean?  Listening to the teacher and others who are sharing, following along with the class (or sitting quietly to watch).  Lots of lesson can be discussed here...non-stealing (stealing attention, etc.)
4)  Give her some control - have her lead an activity.
5) Sit next to her and put your hand on your shoulder or knee as needed to calm and soothe.  Make her your 'special' buddy to keep her engaged (don't say that, just act it so by partnering with her and engaging her directly whenever you can.)
6)  Reserve the stamps for those who participate, are respectful and stay on their mats.  If that doesn't apply to her, she shouldn't have a stamp/reward.  Be sure to set up this understanding in advance -  that this is how you will handle things going forward  (you can't change the rules halfway through, but in this case, I would say go for it).  If she's not able to get a stamp, be sure to chat with her alone after class to be encouraging, eg, "I know it can be challenging for you to stay on your mat.  Today, you made a choice to not follow the rules that we have that show respect and ensure all our safety.  But I also know that next week is another opportunity to make a different choice.  I'm here for you and know that you can try again and be successful.  I can't wait to see that next week!"  I would then share with the parent what happened and this converstation in a very positive and unattached way.
 7)  Finally, and most importantly, remember to have compassion.  We can't possibly know all that our students are bringing to class with them.  Anxiety, a feeling of being 'out of control', anger, and many other emotions often play a major role in bringing about challenging behavior. The angst-ridden behavior is often a coping strategy.  We can remain loving and kind, while also being firm with our words and follow through.  Setting up expectations in advance, reviewing what it coming next in a class, paying a little extra attention and handing over some control (eg, choices) creates a feeling of safety which can help alleviate some of that anxiety and lead to more cooperative behavior.   
Remember, yoga teaches children tools to manage their emotions, so your student is in the right place. I've had several students, who at first struggled to settle into the class dynamic, but over time were able to do so - and very successfully.  Having said that, I have also had a student who I realized was not quite ready for a group class.  Try the tips above without attachment before making any decisions. If the class is deemed inappropriate for the child, you may consider offering private sessions, allowing the child to settle into the routine and expectations before reintroducing him/her into a group setting.
 I hope some of this is helpful to you.   Please review your ChildLight Yoga Teacher Training Manual for many more suggestions.  Readers, if you have other ideas on handling challenging behavior in a kids' yoga class, please do share.  We're all ears!