Toddlers and preschoolers deal with big, giant, powerful emotions. They become possessed by them almost. It can be scary for them. It can even be scary and painful for parents to watch too. Overcome with emotion, kids may do things they know aren't nice - like hit and scream. They may feel bad afterwards, and subconsciously think emotions are bad.
But emotions aren't bad. We all have them. Acknowledging them, feeling them and dealing with them in a healthy way is part of what it means to be emotionally healthy and self-aware. How do we teach young kids this though?
Here is one chant I use in my weekly kids yoga classes that has been very fun and effective at teaching toddlers and preschoolers about their emotions.
The basic chant is this: I am happy; I am well; I have everything I need.
Usually I work with one mantra or chant for a good two months and try to integrate it into the class in many different ways so it really sinks into their consciousness. This particular chant I love to do in December and January.
I am a big fan of the power of learning by playing. So much so in fact, I spent almost three years working for the amazing International non-profit Right To Play and saw first hand the power that play has to educate and empower children to overcome poverty, conflict and disease.
Because of this, I make sure my kids classes aren't all stillness and calm. We always have lots of fun. Because of it, I believe, I am able to teach some really great life-skills to the kids. Here is a really fun and effective way to work with the I am Happy Chant:
1. Chant. Have the kids follow you by walking in a circle, clapping to the beat, and chanting: "I am happy; I am well; I have everything I need. I am happy; I am well; I have everything I need..."
2. Pause. Make sure they are watching you and have stopped moving. Pick a life moment that may evoke a big toddler emotion, such as, "we are at the store and I see a toy I really want, but my parents say I can't have it. How would that make you feel?" We talk about all the possible feelings, and open dialogue up in case kids want to relate.
3. Making of the Monster. Instruct the kids to start feeling that feeling right down into their bones, and into the pit of their bellies. Then that emotion starts to grow and grow and take hold of you. You turn into your "monster self"! You could jump up and down. Make your voice loud. Make crazy ugly faces. Pound the ground. Contort your body and make weird shapes.
I personally like to jump up and down with one leg up at a weird angle, arms flaring, yelling AHHHH! Then switch to crouching down and hitting the floor with my fists. It gets very intense. Except that many of the kids are laughing hysterically. (I think I may look rather silly)
4. The Calm. Then after we burn out, we become still. Take a deep breath. Look around at each other to see if we are back "home" (back to the calm place inside of ones self). You could say something the first time through like, wow I wanted that toy so bad that it just changed me into my monster self. Boy, that was wild. But it happens sometimes. I am okay now, are you? Yes, okay. Let's keep on going then. "I am happy. I am well. I have everything I need..."
5. Repeat. Repeat the process. It could be different scenario or the same. You can ask the kids to make up one if they are verbal enough, like someone accidentally stepping on your foot. Each time we turn into our monsters selves for a shorter and shorter period of time until we don't even freak out at all!
6. Results. This exercise is a great way to teach kids that it is okay to have big, strong emotions. It happens. And that doesn't mean they are good or bad. It shows them a safe way to do it where they don't hit or harm anyone else. Many can relate to these big feelings and laugh about it a little because it is done in a fun way. When those big feelings creep up on them in real life, they now have the knowledge about what is happening to them, and they know it is is normal. Hopefully it won't freak them out too much too.
This exercise also gives them knowledge that the intense feeling is going to go away and they will be fine again eventually. Lastly, it gives them some tools should they try to recover quicker.
These are big lessons for toddlers/preschoolers!
I love to sing this chant during relaxation time/savasana. For young ones, I choose a small animal to put on their belly during savasana. I chant this song as I distribute the animal onto their bellies. There is usually one child who is still unhappy with their animal given to them. I try to reinforce the chant to them.
I also will choose stories that explore the theme of being happy with what you have, and what happens when the character doesn't get what they want. We have fun picking yoga poses to do that go with the story. Its a great time to explore the lesson that "more" doesn't always make you happy.
I've also used this chant in my adult yoga classes around the holidays to help them stay centered and real, and give them a mantra to help them not get so caught up in the material side of things.
Try it at home and let me know if you and your family enjoy it!
The Domestic Yogi