One of the first songs I have a conscious memory of learning is from Girl Scouts. I started as a Brownie, so would have been about seven, and my daughter, who at 10 had her first meeting yesterday as a Junior Girl Scout, sings the same song.
Make new friends but keep the old,
One is silver and the other gold.
A circle is round, is has no end
That’s how long I want to be your friend.
There are two things I take away from that simple song. One is that making and keeping friends is important. The other is that it’s just that simple. Make friends. Just…do it.
What we often forget to account for is that making friends doesn’t always come naturally. Just like everything else we do, its a skill. Don’t believe me? Ask any introverted adult who has relocated and had to make new friends. Making friends can be hard for everyone.
Some children aren’t instinctively brave enough to introduce themselves to a stranger, or haven’t developed the social skills to understand how to connect with other children. Sometimes the request to play doesn’t quite hit the mark. Ever seen a toddler walk over a shove another child, or a preschooler snatch a truck out of a classmate’s hand? What looks like aggression or selfishness is often their attempt to navigate an invitation to play.
Kids need tools in order to know how to make friends, and yoga can be a fantastic place to start.
Socialization for Toddlers and Preschoolers in Yoga Class
Friendships, in the context we usually recognize them, tend to begin around age 4. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it is when children develop the cognitive connections and empathy to form that sort of bond. Up until age 4 (or so), kids are developing their foundational social-emotional skills.
At this age, yoga gives kids a space where they can interact with their peers while still being supervised and supported by a familiar caregiver. This dynamic can help children develop communication, cooperation, sharing, empathy, and conflict resolution while there is still a trusted grownup nearby to provide support and guidance. In early childhood yoga classes, young children begin to learn empathy and compassion, as well as self regulation.
Early childhood yoga teachers are also an excellent resource for developing these skills. Trained in both yoga philosophy and early childhood development, tot and preschool yoga teachers can narrate the experiences of children in class, helping them to form context for what is happening, and also teaching adults a little more about what’s going on in the minds of the children involved.
Yoga Principles Help School-Age Children Navigate Social Norms
Once kids reach first grade or so, friendships can become tricky. This is partly because children have become more aware of their place in the community and have more developed ideas about who they do and do not want to be friends with and are able to recognize more acutely when they don’t fit in. Children begin to make judgements about the behavior of their peers, and gravitate to those who seem to have common interests and values. At this age, a shared desire to dig in the sandbox or play with the same toy isn’t always enough.
Yoga continues to teach self-regulation skills and kindness to elementary-aged children, making it easier for them to integrate themselves into their classroom, neighborhood, or team community. Kids can learn how to work as part of a group, the way everyone has a natural role, that turns must be taken, and that when we can make mindful choices about our actions and reactions, it’s much easier for everyone to get along.
Older children are able to understand that ahimsa (the first yogic yama, which translates to non-harming) also applies to ourselves. Yoga helps kids learn to speak to themselves kindly and without judgment, and explore their sense of self-worth. When children feel good about themselves, they are much more easily able to reach out to others. And, when they practice using their self-regulation skills in yoga class, they’re more accessible in the school lunchroom.
For children who are especially reserved, yoga class also offers a non-competitive, low-key group activity where children can spend time with peers who have a common interest.
Yoga Philosophy Helps Teens and Tweens When Friendships Get Complicated
The experience of being a tween or teen has always been fraught, but in the era of social media, video chats, and highly competitive everything, it has become even more overwhelming. Starting around middle school, friendships become closer and more intense, and tweens and teens communicate with and lean on their friends more than they did when they were younger. Having close friends at this age gives tweens and teens someone to talk openly with about things they may be uncomfortable sharing with even their favorite adults, and “trying on” friendships lets older kids develop and explore their values, beliefs, and interests.
The same skills that taught younger children self regulation, empathy, and kindness towards self and others continue to develop in yoga classes for middle school and beyond. Moments of stillness become restorative rest and mindfulness, allowing the nervous system to recalibrate. A calm and steady nervous system resources us to manage the complicated interpersonal dynamics that come along with being a bigger kid.
Deeper and less concrete philosophy is introduced, allowing opportunities for svadhyaya, the yogic value of self-study. Tween and teen yoga teachers challenge older kids to think deeply about their actions and mindset, and to recognize what makes them special and what traits they value in the people around them. At an age when parents are beginning to have less influence over their children, and may be present less frequently, the discernment kids can practice in yoga class may allow them to make better choices in who they interact with and how they spend their time.
In our increasingly digital, post-pandemic age, close friendships are on the decline and–not coincidentally–reports of feeling isolated and lonely are increasing. A study spanning 80 years found that having friends is a key factor in living a healthy, happy life. Inversely, people who lacked meaningful companionship were more likely to experience poor physical health, depression, and substance abuse. Is a yoga practice a magic pill for suddenly having friends and making social connections? Nope. But yoga does provide us with the tools to be our highest self and to interact with the world around us in a healthy way, making us more approachable and more confident in forming and maintaining relationships.
About the Author
Jessica LaGarde has been teaching creative movement in the metro area since 2005 and is passionate about helping children discover and explore their bodies and the world around them. She was trained by Joye Newman, MA to teach preschool creative movement for Kids’ Moving Company, a Bethesda-based creative movement studio. In 2017, she completed her Baby, Toddler, and Children’s Yoga Teacher Training through Childlight Yoga.
In addition to working with preschoolers, Jessica is a registered massage practitioner and is trained in infant massage instruction. She has practiced massage for over twelve years and taught massage as part of Potomac Massage Training Institute’s professional training program. Outside of the movement space and massage room, she enjoys cooking, knitting, sewing, gardening and exploring the outdoors with her daughter.