The Myth of Good Kids vs. Problem Kids
When I was a child, it seemed there were kids who were good at doing school, getting along with others, and making friends and kids who weren’t. The kids who were good at these things were the “good kids.” The others were seen as problems to be solved or obstacles in the way of everyone else’s learning. While we still see this kind of perspective on kids today, there is more conversation now among parents and educators about helping kids build executive function and the capacity for self-regulation—the basic tools everyone needs to get along and set and achieve goals for a fulfilling life.
Children who are struggling with these capacities often look like children who just aren’t paying attention or children who are deliberately not controlling themselves. —Deborah A. Phillips, PhD, Dept. of Psychology and Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University
Teaching Executive Function and Self-Regulation
The realization that we can educate children to self regulate is a critical one. The ability to build the skills that we test for in schools—language, math, and science—as well as the ability to build meaningful and successful lives rests on healthy executive function and self-regulation. If we hope to narrow achievement gaps and promote equality in schools (and in the larger world), we must help all kids develop these fundamental capacities.
If you don’t have self-regulation, then you act out and the teacher puts you in time out, and so then you miss part of the learning that’s going on, and then you are more upset because you’re behind, and so you act out, and so you get this downward spiral. —Deborah J. Leong, PhD
There are a number of ways we can support executive function, which includes skills like self-control, working memory, self-reflection, organization, and planning. Parents and teachers can target these skills individually with strategies like asking kids to count to five before asking or responding to a question, using memory games, and introducing organizational tools. Research indicates, however, that combining physical exercise with mindfulness through activities like yoga or martial arts may be more effective than narrowly focusing on individual skills for building executive function.
The Benefits of Yoga
Executive function begins developing its roots in infancy, growing dramatically throughout the first few years and continuing to improve throughout adolescence until a strong neural network can develop in adulthood. Researchers believe these capacities can be trained, much like physical strength, agility, and flexibility can be trained by going to the gym. Yoga gives the opportunity to practice multiple skills that strengthen executive function, including mindfulness, self-reflection, visualization, and empathy, while also enhancing oxygen to the brain through deep breathing.
Building Kids’ Physical, Mental, and Emotional Strength
Imagination yoga was designed specifically for children. It uses poses that are appropriate for kids’ developing bodies and gently guides them through the yoga flow with engaging stories that encourage strong visualization. The curriculum teaches that practicing kindness—to ourselves as well as to those around us—is one of our most important tasks as human beings and that kindness often requires courage. This might be the courage to tell someone to stop when they’re causing someone else pain, the courage to say “no” when our boundaries are being violated, or the courage to admit when we’re wrong and apologize. It might also be the courage to vocalize kind thoughts like, “I really admire the way you solved that problem” or simply, “I appreciate you.”
Kids aren’t good or bad. They are newly arrived human beings who need those of us who have been around a while to help them navigate this world so they can each shine their own unique light into it. Engaging them in age-appropriate yoga practice plants a seed that can grow into a lifetime of physical, emotional, and psychological health, empowering them to be their best, most effective selves.
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Diamond and Lee. “Interventions shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4–12 Years Old.” Science. 23 Aug 2011. Accessed 22 Dec 2017.
“Executive Function and Self Regulation.” developingchild.harvard.edu. Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, 18 June 2012. Accessed 22 Dec 2017.