Yoga for Kids: Anger and Anxiety
4 easy breaths to teach children who may suffer from anger issues or anxiety.
I have children who get angry… is that just me?? Ok well, they throw fits, they fight with each other (literally fight… like Thor versus Iron Man fight), they get mad is my point. My oldest also has a tendency to fixate on things and has some anxious tendencies. He wants to know when, where, why, who, why, why not...did I say why? He needs to know time, date, place. He needs to check behind you to make sure you did it correctly, he needs to check behind everyone to make sure they did it correctly. He is a quick thinker and he needs assurance that what he is thinking is correct or he can’t move past it!! This leads to lots of frustrating conversations (or repeated conversations. and one thing I absolutely ABHOR is repeating myself. I don’t know where it comes from, it is definitely an illogical expectation that I have, and I definitely repeat myself 5,000 times a day and I TRY to do it with patience most of the time, BUT I loathe doing it.
Since I work with children, and have worked with children for all of my professional career, I know kids can get anxious and I know how uncomfortable it is for them to sit in unfamiliar emotions. Since I teach yoga and coping skills to children, it becomes easier to find ways to help children cope through breath. What I ALSO KNOW is that kids hate when you tell them to count to ten; They hate when you tell them to try to calm down; and they hate when you try to get them to breath when they are angry. There are a couple of reasons for this if you care interested. If you are not… just skip down a few lines to the good stuff. So when we are angry we are flooded with tons of emotions and chemicals. Our brains start to change, we stop thinking clearly, the makeup of how our brains look and function when we are in a state of anger is different. It’s the same with stress and anxiety. WE DON’T THINK CLEARLY WHEN WE ARE FEELING INTENSE EMOTIONS. Which is why it’s important that children learn NOT to make important decisions (like jumping off of a bridge, or throwing that lamp, or hitting you, etc) when they are feeling intense emotions. Consequently the older ones should learn not to make important decisions when they are feeling intense emotions that they may think are positive (i.e romantic love… hormones… etc) This is a difficult skill, but I believe that you train up a child in the way that they should go and even if they take a detour they will always know the way home. So, I want to equip you guys with some tools that I use with my yoga students, my own children....and myself if I'm honest, when emotions get high and everyone needs a break.
Disclaimer: These techniques are just that the techniques. Outside of teaching them to children, I teach parents how to communicate these and implement these techniques so that they are not triggering their children in the midst of a fit. Also, these breaths have other advantages outside of anger and/or anxiety so feel free to practice with your children any time, not just when “it’s needed”. Also, the video shows me seated, but I assure you my kids are almost never seated with most of these breaths unless we are specifically having yoga time together… they are usually sorting out some serious emotional in a corner, pouting, fighting, crying, etc. Sooooo you do the math, you can use them any time, any place!
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Elephant breath: This is one of my yoga favorites. This breath kind of tricks your little one into thinking that they are having fun. The trick is… they are having fun!! Before you know it they will be chasing you around the house like an elephant stampede! This breath helps to get the blood flowing back to the brain, gets the body warm and moving, and just makes you feel like having fun. Here’s a tid bit: always process afterwards. They might nudge against it because they think “hey, we were just having fun what happened??” Well they were in a sense, so keep the positive attitude going, but be sure to always revisit any negative or unacceptable behavior that needs to be addressed.
Bear breath: perfect for anger de-escalation. The act of holding your breath forces you to control something in the moment; and in moments when they feel out of control, it allows your little one to prove to themselves that they can control something. You begin to focus more on the pattern of the breath and the holds than what ever it was that you were upset about; add to it that you are getting oxygen to the brain to regulate your thinking and emotions and you’ve got a winner. I love this one.
Blow out the candle: Again, the art of distraction is the perfect way to get kids thinking rationally. It takes their thoughts away from the part of the brain that is impulse driven and moves it to the place where they can begin to process. I tell my littles they can do this as many times as they need or I encourage them to continue with the breaths if I notice that they are not relaxing. Another aspect to the distraction is the feeling of the cool breath on their finger. Try to help them take big belly breaths and blow out slowly through a thin whole to make sure the air is cool and not hot. You are stimulating their brains in several ways here to divert the attention away from the negative stimuli to a more desirable one. Older kids might feel silly at first, but they may also grow to love this one the most. My littles love this one and it took a while to get them to embrace it. They were happy to have something to do when they didn’t know what to do with their anger. Note: DON’T FORCE IT. The more pressure you place on the breath the higher the potential for another explosion. No one wants to be told what to do when they are angry.
Roll Your Eyes Again: This one works great for children who don’t know that rolling their eyes is disrespectful! BUT if you want to use it for older ones, it gives them a chance to roll their eyes without repercussion. The catch or the boundary is that you (parent) have to hear the breath (not a sigh of disrespect) and their eyes can not be open! This one works well for anxious feelings and feelings of tension.
I hope that these breaths help you as we end our year and start a new one. You will find that your little one will lean towards a certain breath; go with that preference. Keep trying other breaths but go with what they like in the moment. it will more inclined to use the breath if they enjoy doing it.
Children's yoga Instructor
Fellow mother in the matrix