Teachers often ask how to get children to stop goofing around and pay attention. Take a moment and watch their spontaneous behavior. Wonder, could this behavior be “unintentionally” trying to listen? Our first reaction may think “no,” but watch their movements. Their behavior could be giving clues as to why they are not paying attention.
Samantha, a fourth grader, was not following the directions. Her attention was on something else. To teach children attention we first have to help children turn attention inside. To pull Samantha’s attention inside we did the Home Breath lesson (a lesson to center a child’s mind in their heart). But it was futile. Each time Samantha was giggling so loud she was disturbing the rest of the class. Instead of listening she was trying to put her legs in an “upside down criss-cross applesauce.” Trying to get her feet on top of her thighs in a cross-legged position. This had nothing to do with the directions, I thought?
Samantha is notorious for “directing the show.” Even at home she has complete control of her parents. Though she is a very smart girl she had a very negative attitude. She saw herself above everyone else. To a teacher this can be very annoying and time consuming.
I went up to her and asked her to exhale for ten seconds. She couldn’t, but what was interesting was she thought she could.
“Oh I can do that!” She snapped.
“Great, lets try,” I said.
Together we took a breath in and exhaled long but within four counts Samantha was out of air. She didn’t want to try it again and went back to trying to pull one foot over the top of her other leg.
I noticed as she exhaled her ribcage didn’t budge.
I asked her to try it again. With arms crossed over her puffed out chest she rolled her eyes at me. Her ribcage looked so locked I wondered if she could feel anything inside?
We tried to do the Home Breath again together but this time I showed her how long she was exhaling by counting the length of her exhalation on my fingers… one, two, three… On the fourth count again she ran out of breath.
“Oh Samantha did you realize when you ran out of breath?” For a fleeting moment this eight-year-old brain step out of ego and wondered with curiosity. I saw who she really was… but then suddenly she turned towards the wall.
“I’m not going to do this,” she announced and went back to fiddle with her legs.
By this time I should have wondered what the heck was going on with her legs, but I was so focused on the lesson. “Samantha, let’s try it again. See if you can exhale for just one more second. If you can it may help you to feel better.”
To my surprise she turned back towards me and tried again… for a moment then gave up. She gazed through me staring at other classmates moving on with the next lesson. We rejoined the group.
But it wasn’t long before Samantha was groaning with pain and yelled, “HELP!” She had put herself in “upside down criss-cross applesauce” and was stuck.
Though she was disturbing the class I finally got why she putting her legs in this contortion.
With her legs crossed and both feet resting on her thighs her lower back and pelvis were locked. This gave more emphasis on the tension in her ribcage. Having her lower body now locked she wanted to exhale (to relieve the discomfort). The pattern of holding her breath found a way to relieve the tension in her ribcage. As the discomfort eased she was inspired exhale even longer.
Her spontaneous behavior of “goofing around” was the PERFECT solution. This position got her attention inside and reeducated the tension in her ribcage.
What does the legs have to do with the ribcage? The suspension of the lower body can be antagonistic to the upper torso. Try sitting in a cross leg position and twist right and left. Then sit with knees bent and feet on the floor. Twist again right and left and feel how the position of the legs changes the movement in the ribcage. Samantha was changing her ribcage.
This may sound complicated but it is very simple just pay attention to how muscles work together in our own bodies. Did you just get down on the floor and try the action?
Muscular reactions like duplicating machines copying our minds. The physical tension in Samantha’s body is also mental. When a child is not paying attention they can get in trouble. The results are usually reprimanding the child and scarring his/her character. Attitude and physical posturing are inseparable.
With out changing or reprimanding Samantha’s actions we found a way to reach her attention from the inside. Encouraging her to contort her legs showed us what may have been contributing to her difficulty paying attention. Buff your chest out, tighten your ribcage and try to pay attention to someone. After a short period of time it can be nearly impossible. Understanding spontaneous behavior in children helps the caregiver or teacher to find compassion.
“Attention” she needed was towards herself, before she could give attention to her teachers. Getting her attention inside was impossible until she spontaneously showed us how. The uncomfortable position fueled the desire to bring attention to her breath. The spontaneous behavior showed us where attention must release her ribcage and also her attitude.
To make long-term affects we needed to reeducate the motor patterns of her ribcage into her pelvis. We did movement lesson Panda Bear Roll rolling from sitting to lying while holding on to our feet. This is a developmental movement in the first year of life. It reeducates the integration of movement between the spine, neck, legs and head. Attention directs the eyes. The head moves with the eyes to pick to propel the body forward.
Movement with attention slowing pieces together awareness inside. Tense body parts can feel invisible. If there are areas in the body we can’t feel, we also have a difficult time directing attention to those parts.
At the end of the lesson we returned to the Home Breath lesson. Samantha could now exhale to the count of eight, four seconds longer than when we begun. Simultaneously her attitude shifted. A smile came over her face and a soft gaze in her eyes thanked me.
I’m not saying her attitude stayed shifted because if her body goes back to her old way of holding tension, the old attitude can return. But now she has a choice. Finding the cause of the symptom requires learning awareness between attitude and physical sensations affecting behavior.
Just as Samantha did not realize when she stopped exhaling, she also wasn’t aware of how her behavior was affecting others. Being aware of the connection between physical and mental patterns is key. Understanding involuntary behavior shows us how.
Spontaneous actions, even if it is “misbehavior” needs to be taken into consideration before we reprimanding a child. “Goofing around” could be opportunities to handle behavioral challenges from the inside out. If we can understand how our bodies affect our minds we have more patience to stop and wonder about our children’s actions.
Somewhere in all of us there is a soft kindhearted soul. For Samantha it was stuck between rock hard ribcage and an eight-year-old ego.
That day three teachers came to me and said, “ Wow, what did you do with Samantha? Today was the first time in three years she ever said good-bye to us! ” Six months later I was told Samantha is a totally different child. Could there be some connections? Well, it surely didn’t hurt.