How to Talk and Listen

There’s something so appealing about the book’s title, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. As soon as I saw the book, I knew that it would be helpful during yoga teaching. I can’t count how many times it has felt like I was talking to the walls during class…

This book has several topic-based chapters filled with advice, scenarios, quick summaries, and even cartoons. I have found many of the recommendations helpful, so here are some bits and pieces from the book and how I have used them in class.

Dealing With Feelings

A basic premise of this book is that we need to accept and respect children’s feelings. This can be done by listening quietly or acknowledging their feelings with a word or two- “Oh, I see….” You can also do this by naming the feeling for them- “That sounds upsetting/frustrating/like it hurt your feelings etc.”. Another option is to give children their wishes in a fantasy world (“I wish I could take a magic wand and create another yoga mat, but since there aren’t enough for everyone, you’ll need to share!”) The book explains that all feelings can be accepted, but actions can be limited. “I understand how angry you are that she stole the Beanie Baby, but you need to tell her that in words, not with your hands.”

Engaging A Child’s Cooperation

I am always looking for ways to get children in class to cooperate. Although the book gives many ideas that are particularly helpful for parents, the suggestion that I have used most as a teacher is to say what you are asking for in a single word. I get tired of hearing my voice explaining to the same kid over and over that they need to participate with the rest of class, go back to their mat, etc… So now, when I feel like I have repeated myself over and over to Little Johnny, I say, “John… Mat…” and I point his mat. It’s been helpful, and it has kept me from going hoarse.

Punishment Alternatives

This book also has a chapter on punishment alternatives. My favorite is giving the child a choice. You can do yoga poses with the rest of the class or you can sit out and Take 5. You decide.” Another suggestion is to state your behavior expectations. “I expect you to walk to a mat quietly and sit in Pretzel Pose until class starts.” This has worked well for me when I am talking to the whole group instead of a single child.

Encouraging Autonomy

I particularly enjoyed the section in this book about encouraging autonomy. We have so many opportunities to do this within a yoga class. It suggests letting children make choices. (“When you grow from your seed become a flower or a tree.”) It also recommends showing respect for the child’s struggle. (“Tree Pose can be hard to balance in. Try standing next to the wall and using your arm for balance if you need to…”). Another suggested way to encourage autonomy is to keep from rushing in to answer questions. So if Susie asks a question you can say, “Hmmm… What do you think?” This also gives you a little more time to think if it is a particularly challenging or uncomfortable question.

Giving Praise and Boosting Self-Esteem

How to Talk also gives some great recommendations on giving praise and boosting self-esteem. At times I feel like I robotically say, “Good job”, after every pose in a yoga class. I didn’t realize I how often I said it until I heard a little girl in one of my classes parroting back “Good job, good job.” The book suggests to describe instead of evaluate what you see. I see long straight spines, arms on our sides, and I don’t hear any talking. Look at these strong Mountains.” Summing up good behavior with a word is also recommended. “John, you gave some of your marbles to Susie when she ran out. Now that’s what I call sharing! I’ve even starting teaching the yamas and niyamas with this technique. “Jane, you were happy with the purple flower even though your favorite color is pink. That’s what we call santosha in yoga.”

Freeing Children From Playing Roles

The book finishes with talking about how to get children to stop playing the roles in which they have been cast (by parents, teachers, etc.) I know that I’ve come to expect certain behavior from certain kids in my class, and they do tend to play the role of the troublemaker when I think that way. How To Talk gives lots of recommendations to help free kids from these roles. One way is to show the child a new picture of themselves- “You’ve been sitting quietly in Pretzel Pose after turning in your Beanie Baby.” Another is to put a child in a situation where they can see themselves differently- “John, can you collect all the ABC Yoga cards and put them in the basket?”. The book also suggests that you let children overhear something positive about them. I try to say something positive to a parent in front of the child if I have previously had some problems with them.

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and How To Listen So Kids Will Talk is a book that I would highly recommend for a boost in classroom management ideas. I’ve pulled a few of my favorite tidbits, but I suggest picking up a copy at your local library and reading it from cover to cover. It’s a quick read, and I think you’ll end taking notes on the summary pages to easily remember some of the words of wisdom. You might even end up using it with adults… “Honey, the garbage!”