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Let go of control and expectations

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My partner is a teacher at a large college in London and we have hosted some awesomely powerful and transformational mindfulness sessions there and we have also hosted some not-so successful mindfulness sessions there.

Looking back at what made the more successful ones successful vs the unsuccessful ones, we have learned a lot when delivering mindfulness to younger people and children. 

I had always seen it as a control thing, the more I was in control, the better the teaching experience was for me. Children have the ability to be disruptive and struggle to take things seriously sometimes. It can be hard for an adult to close their eyes and be left to manage their thoughts, let alone a child. We have experienced all kinds of reactions from storming off to crying but the most common one is, you guessed it... laughing. 

When I first started my journey with younger people, I would find the laughing disruptive and I would also see laughter (uncontrolled by an individual or group) in the session as my inability to control the group or control the situation. Feeling out of control in a situation can often make you feel like you want to control the individual so that you can take control again and bring the learning experience back to what you had planned. 

I have discovered that letting that control go and making the laughter, jokes and disruption a part of the process (to a degree) can help you let go of the control element. Behaviours, what ever they may be, are a part of the process for children. I am not saying that we condone negative and disruptive behaviour but what I am saying is that we need to identify the behaviours that are reflected as an outcome of a difficult process for a child and use that as part of their experience. I have found this to be a powerful tool when supporting younger people. 

If they want to laugh, then lets laugh and lets be explore that with an open mind, lets discuss why we laughed and talk about how we deal with things as a group before giving it another go. Once you have broken through this barrier, you can explore anything in your meditations, from compassion to gratitude with a much more attentive group. 

Letting go of my expectations and wanting to be in control has been a massive learning process for me but it has facilitated a much more explorative process for the kids- this is where the magic happens. As they discover their feelings and thoughts in a less controlled environment, they come up with these gems of insight that end up teaching us.

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Thank you so much for sharing this insight! I can really resonate with this. Last winter I held yoga and mindfulness sessions for an entire school during their wellbeing week and you're right, laughter was the most common reaction. I can also totally relate to the feeling of being out of control of the situation and wanting to find a way to control it again. Your reflections are a really powerful reminder that even this laughter can be embraced.

One thing I found a bit challenging and also sweet was when, in the middle of guiding a simple yoga flow for one class, a young girl (maybe 8 years old or so) came up to me and whispered about a couple of boys behind her that were laughing and being disruptive. Her sincerity was so touching and sweet, and so I whispered back that I'd go talk to them and also suggested that their laughter didn't have to interrupt her practice but that we could move her mat if she wanted.

It was a very interesting experience because in the middle of a practice guiding 20 students, it was difficult to continue leading the group, check in with the two boys, and also tend to her concerns. I'm curious if you have any insights on this or suggestions for navigating this.

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Hi Gillian and community, I believe that remaining mindful that we are all just big kids and recalling the beginners mind is always a useful approach when working with children. Often the distraction can be the most teachable moment by allowing that particular student to either become the teacher and let them out the front to control the class and use it as a teachable moment. Often acting out behaviour is a cry for attention and a cover for the uncomfortable feelings that can be associated with something going on in the playground or at home and possibly trauma.
A lovely little exercise is to give each child a couple of post-it- notes each lesson and their job is to write something nice about each others responses or that someone has great insight or just something nice. This can be a great way to introduce labelling thoughts, feelings and emotions eg - I felt so happy when you....., OR WOW - when you talked about the numbness in your fingers and toes, it reminded me that I had that feeling too. Its so important to make sure that the adults around are constantly modelling this type of loving kindness behaviour and also vetting post-it- note comments. Always good to note that children can be brutally honest!!
You can have a board with envelopes with each childs name on it and when the lesson is over, the children put their note in the envelope for the particular child they had chosen that day.  
To ensure that the kid that is always the distractor also receives kind notes you can give the kids a list of all participants with encouragement to write to a different child each week and tick each one off their list so they don't continually write to their friend or the kids that always well behaved.

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Lovely suggestion! Thank you Janelle. And I love that last paragraph. As I was reading, I was actually thinking about, wondering how to ensure that everyone receives the positive reinforcement. And so you answered my question before I needed to ask 🙂 

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I have used this little activity in a variety of ways depending on the age of the children and have also used it with teenagers - its a great way to have the kids extending their practice into their daily lives. 

Another thing I have had kids do is write a special letter or email to a grandparent, parent or friend stating reasons why they love/like this person. For those kids who don't like to write, I had them make a collage of images and send that. 

 

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