Children's Lifestyle in Modern Society

Sannyasi Shantachittam, Italy

Today's children are different from those of the past, and their needs have undergone a profound change. The western child grows up in a micro-family, in which there is little interaction with children of the same age; the grandparents still work and the parents are often engaged outside of the house for the entire day.

The child lives in a state of loneliness and real dependence, where everything is ready-made and automated, in which material and human space is limited and inflexible, and where the timetable is governed by adults. The streets, courtyards and squares are considered dangerous spaces and are forbidden.

The modern child needs help with finding a way among the chaotic quantity of information available outside the school, and finding support in making links between mind and body, between words and hands, between images and complex sensorial perceptions. The child needs to live in a place where it is possible to communicate and enjoy tranquil relationships with other children without the interference of an adult. In this way the child can naturally pit his wit against that of children of the same age.

Over a period of continuous observation, the teaching team of our association has noted that children ever more frequently experience problems related to disturbance of attention, difficulties with concentration and remaining seated, excitement, poor motor skills and incorrect grip. There are increasing numbers of children who quickly move from one game to another, but can't play, children who don't accept frustration and have little time to wait. They are accustomed to getting everything at once.

Factors of the external environment which contribute to creating educational disorders and destabilizing a child's behaviour

The causes of childhood discomfort are found predominantly outside the context of school. The leading cause of problematic behaviour is to be found in the environment in which they grow up, beginning from the psychological difficulties they often meet in their development and maturation. Important factors that can cause behavioural disorders include:

  • At prenatal level, habits of the mother: Smoking, alcohol, drugs, abuse of medicines.
  • In the perinatal period: Great difficulties in family relationships, psychological and social instability, precariousness of the family (social, economic), mental illness of a parent or a relative.

All of the above may cause or contribute to the development of behavioural disorders and learning difficulties.

Psycho-social discomfort of the family and the quality of relationships which surround the child may be at the origin. Children with behavioural disorders display a deficit of interactions with the surrounding environment.

The quality of interactions helps the child to live a pleasant dynamic relationship, a permanent dialogue with the external world, with mother, father and other members of the family. The affection that is produced provides strong stimulation for the brain.

The quality of the emotional dialogue that the child lives, in constant interaction with the environment, has as its consequence the production of a discharge of hormones, such as dopamine and noradrenaline which help the passage of neuro transmitters to all levels, thereby stimulating the brain.

Observations and research related to the brain show that in troubled children, there is a slowing down of the brain movement, particularly in the zone of the prefrontal cortex. This is the area for the control of movement and motor activity. This leads to the conclusion that the deficit in the quality of interactions with the environment that surrounds the child, is a limiting factor for the development of certain hormones that promote brain plasticity.

Emotionally incontinent children

Very often the behaviours of children vary in different situations, roles and moments in which they display cognitive or emotional functions. While engaged with building sets, drawings or board games, they perform well; they are smart and productive.

When they are engaged in bodily activities, they often lose control on a primary emotional level. They are triggered, literally out of control, almost like a flooded river that breaks its banks and over whelms everything. They can hardly interact with others, and don't accept limitations, comparisons, rules or roles. They can be triggered to a dangerous point of hurting them selves or others, or breaking and damaging objects around them.

Changes in tone of voice, posture and gesture become relevant when the child's contact with others and with objects becomes precarious. The control which the child cannot find within must come from the external surroundings.

The help of yoga

Another particular case is of children that we can define as being 'out of time'. These children begin one activity and immediately look around for something else; forgetting what they were doing, they start a new activity.

They are always at the mercy of their fantasies and activities, and each activity overtakes the other so that there is no productive result of any one of them. No realization takes root; nothing can be completed to be remembered as an experience, nothing becomes history, memory.

The emotions take the short cut of the circuit breaker, of immediate discharge, without taking form through the body, space, time or object. This means that the emotions cannot be transformed into experiences, into history that could build the child's identity. It is necessary for the educator to stand as a solid point of reference, and thus make sense of the activities of the child.

As a teaching team, we keep asking ourselves the same question: what rhythms of life do we offer these children? For some years we have chosen to privilege the aspect of learning to 'stay'. This means slow time, made of repetitiveness, of shared rituals, a time of observation, a time to get dirty, a time to use one's hands, a time for listening and being astonished.

Yoga is one of the activities which has entered the school with full rights, accompanying the child in growing up. It supports the development of the child's potential, including a balanced personality, independent and free from conditioning; it joins together body and mind, movement and learning, reality and fantasy, immediacy and reflection. The purpose of bringing together these opposites is to discover their conjunction and transform it into serenity, tranquillity, freedom, harmony, happiness and joy of being alive, awareness and concentration.

By the end of our time together I notice that almost everyone in the group has learned, after some initial difficulties, to respect the rhythms and spaces both of the individual and of the mates. They have demonstrated a progressive improvement in self-esteem, strengthened relations with others, evolving socialization and cooperation, in addition to perfecting the postures thanks to a growing awareness of their own body, and recognizing their own emotions, thanks above all to an awareness of the breath.

Classes for groups of parents and children

Yoga lessons addressed to parents and their children have been offered to give the opportunity to the parents to understand the importance of contact with their children, and to recognize how perceptive children are to the internal state of their parents.

Each year for the past four years, we have been holding meetings for parents and children between the ages of 4 and 10 at the headquarters of our association. Almost all the parents who have been practising yoga for any period of time typically attend. It has been possible to notice a difference; parents who regularly practise yoga are closer to their children, do not have abrupt manners, feel the contact with their child, and their children can follow the practices without difficulty, even yoga nidra.

This year, after having offered eight lessons in a nursery school, with children of the age of four, to help parents address some teacher-related problems, we decided to offer two sessions for parents and children in the school.

We split the class into two groups, together with their mothers. The mothers in the first group were particularly stressed. This could be seen from their attitudes, from their troubled breath, and difficulty in managing their children who in turn were very restless.

During the yoga nidra practice, despite the fact that the children were accustomed to it, it was difficult to calm them in the presence of their mothers. This was the case particularly of two of the children.

I had to intervene, to separate the children and their mothers. Simply by putting my hands on the children's bellies they calmed down and could follow the rest of the lesson.

One mother told me that she was surprised to see her son relaxed with the simple touch of the hand.

In the second group the mothers were less stressed and could play and practise asana with their children, live the awareness of the breath, enjoy the final yoga nidra, everything in harmony.

At the end the mothers expressed their gratitude because they felt good and relaxed even though they came to the session after a day of work. They had never practised yoga before.