Mom shares her story
When my son was one, we took him for his annual checkup at the pediatrician. She had asked us beforehand to write down how many words he was speaking. My husband and I compiled a list and presented her approximately 50 words. She was surprised, and we became nervous due to the look on her face.
“Is that bad? Is he behind?” Quickly, she adjusted her puzzled look and explained his vocabulary was exceptional. See like most first-time parents, we were learning right along with him.
Fast forward to kindergarten and he was bored with a letter a week and was frustrated others weren’t on his level. Boredom quickly led to anger. He would hide under the tables and was eventually dragged to the principal’s office—the principal’s office of the school where I taught first grade.
We reached out to friends and fellow educators, we attended a gifted conference and learned ways to help our son cope with his extreme emotions. The year ended with him saying he wanted to “cut off his head and die.” We immediately got him in to see a therapist. With her help, he learned coping strategies and ways to work through his worries. As he got older and the worries became bigger the struggle continued.
Time for a Break
At the same time, as a teacher, it was impossible to not notice the increasing pressure on my students, leading to behavior issues, meltdowns and tears. Standardized test scores are a basis for funding for schools and the need to be labeled an “A” school was ingrained in all the staff, which trickled down to students reciting their next test goal. There were charts in classrooms and students were very aware if they did or did not hit their target.
Everything in my gut (and my academic training) knew this was a recipe for disaster. I started looking for ways to focus more on classroom community and self-esteem. I loved my students, my kids, but knew in my heart I was doing them a disservice. It hurt me every day to push them towards a silly goal—a goal they have no ability to set. It hurt me to know I may actually be damaging their spirit instead of instilling a love of learning and self-acceptance. I decided I needed a break. I was pregnant with my second child and took a leave of absence at the end of the school year.
The Hardest Day of our Lives
My son had moved on to his next school for 5th-12th grade and was halfway through his seventh-grade year. He had been seeing a new therapist for about a year and things were going okay. Along with the pressure of school, he struggled to make friends. His grandfather also had dementia and had just passed away. All of these things piled on and that’s when I received a phone call from his school. Another student had reported that he was looking up ways to harm himself on the computer. A phone call consult with his therapist left us needing to do an emergency intake at the hospital.
What came next was the hardest 9 days of our lives. He was hospitalized at an in-patient treatment facility for depression and suicidal ideation. His younger sister just knew he was in the hospital where doctors could help him feel better. We were only allowed to visit him for two 45-minute segments each day. We are very lucky our son is open and honest with us, and we’ve had many conversations about mental health. I told him I valued his privacy, but I was also not ashamed that he was getting help. I’ve never been ashamed of him—scared, tired, worried, but never ashamed.
Yoga + Mindfulness
At age 3 his sister had started showing perfectionist tendencies and anxiety as well. As she got older, we worked on mindfulness techniques and she was able to take yoga classes at her school. I decided to take a kid’s yoga teacher certification course to help lead my own children. As I saw it helping them, I branched out to teach other kids.
Through mindfulness and yoga, I’ve noticed the many benefits for my own children. My husband and I frequently tell them to “listen to their bodies” and they are now learning to understand signs from their bodies and how to respond to those signs whether it be utilizing certain yoga poses or using breathing as a tool to calm emotions. This has helped them manage their stress, anxiety and moods. My yoga students have also reported using their breathing and meditation to calm their emotions and worries. They are able to practice their favorite yoga poses at home to calm their bodies.
Mother + Educator
As a mother and an educator, it is alarming to me that children as young as first grade are receiving letter grades. They are expected to sit still and be quiet for a majority of their day and perform satisfactory on mandated tests which are typically not developmentally appropriate.
I believe the increase in behavior issues and depression is a direct correlation to these expectations. Kids are feeling the pressure and it’s not good.
While I know the education system needs reform, I also know that we have an opportunity to support our children through yoga and mindfulness. The reward of self-confidence, anxiety relief, and core strengthening will benefit children at home, at school and in life.
Jen earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education specializing in Early Childhood. She was a teacher for many years before she took a break to spend more time with her children. Noticing a troubling trend concerning expectations put on young students, leading to behavior issues in the classroom, she researched methods to help children with mindfulness. She has completed training that focuses on Yoga for kids and families, and is passionate about helping all kids through yoga, mindfulness and nutrition. Through this, she continues to help her own children through struggles including sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.