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With the start of the school year, one absolute—in addition to homework—is the formation of social cliques. Kids congregate in such circles for varied reasons—ranging from shared bonds to insecurity, which is normal, says yoga and mindfulness teacher, Susan Verde, author of the new children’s picture book, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness (Abrams Young Readers). “These are natural tendencies,” she says. “The problem is when these groups become exclusive and uniform.”
The inclusive nature of yoga, through which compassion and community are celebrated, is a positive practice to introduce or reinforce with children at this time of year for such reasons, Verde says. “Check in with your kids, sharing your own experiences from when you were a child or about something you’re currently going through,” she suggests. Below, she offers four yogic strategies children can use to navigate cliques.
1. Be mindful.
Having your own mindfulness practice can be beneficial when responding to your child opening up about feeling left out at school, Verde says. “It helps to have an awareness of your own feelings and emotions —such as jealousy, sadness, or anger—at any given moment. Notice what comes up for you without judgement. Know what your feelings are without projecting your own emotional baggage, if for example, YOU were bullied or left out as a child, recognize that those are YOUR feelings and not necessarily that of your child. Treat those feelings with kindness and curiosity, and then let them go. Having the ability to keep your own emotion out of it can create more space to hear your child and to come up with solutions together.”
2. Help your child connect to her gut—and learn to trust it.
Your Third Chakra often signals when something isn’t right, Verde says. “Helping your child to listen to her gut and trusting that it is telling her something isn’t copacetic can be the first steps to talking about and exploring a troubling scenario. It will also help your child to have enough inner strength and courage to walk away from or stand up to a situation that feels exclusive or bullying. Yoga asana can help physically strengthen this area of the body. When we make a connection to the physical, we are better able to hear the emotional signals our body is sending. The poses especially appropriate for strengthening this core, energy center include Plank and Boat Pose, as well as Warrior Poses,” she says.
3. Practice breathing exercises with your child.
Finding the breath as a place to pause and focus, can help a child not only calm his nervous system, but also connect to the parts of the brain used for decision-making and focus, Verde says. “Knowing how to breathe deeply and slowly in and out of the nose, can provide a moment to make good decisions and calm the whole body. Deep, belly breathing is another tool to help your child handle big emotions that come with social situations that feel exclusive or uncomfortable. Again, breathing also directs energy to the gut, which gives us more information about what we are experiencing and why. Breathing together with your child can help you to connect to one another, and create a safe space to share,” she says.
4. Teach your child to have self-compassion.
Helping your child speak kindly to herself and create her own safe space can help when grappling with cliques that are bullying or exclusive, Verde says. “Often a child thinks there is something wrong with her if she is not welcome in a clique or is asked to participate in something uncomfortable,” she says. Verde suggests practicing mantras, such as “I Am Strong” or “I Am Peaceful,” in Warrior Poses to help cultivate inner strength and compassion. Or she recommends choosing an affirmation phrase, such as “I am enough,” that your child can repeat to herself. “Practicing poses such as forward folds and Child’s Pose can help create a sense of safety and comfort in the body. Heart-opening poses such as Camel and Cobra can create space in the heart to help your child show compassion to others who may also be struggling. Remember as a parent it is hard to see our child struggle and often parents turn blame towards themselves. Practicing your own self-compassion will help you and also will be a great model for your children to help them feel empowered instead of at fault,” she says.