I always remind myself that everyone is doing the best that they can. That usually stops me from being too judgmental when it comes to observing the behavior of parents and caregivers. But recently, I just couldn’t stop myself.

Unfortunately, what I observed can happen when the adults in charge are pushing children to do some activity that is developmentally inappropriate. Here is what I saw recently at a yoga class for young children that I attended with my granddaughter. 

Children ranging in ages 18 months to four years of age gathered in a circle sitting on yoga mats in a local park. A skillful teacher led them through a series of poses while reciting and singing catchy children’s songs to go along with the movements. The teacher was brilliant and really knew how to manage this group of disparate ages and abilities. I have nothing but praise for her intelligence, patience, pacing, and calm demeanor. And it goes without saying, calm is what you are looking for in a yoga class, at any age.

The problem began when the father of an approximately two-year-old boy insisted that the toddler sit and follow the teacher’s instructions…which wasn’t going to happen under any circumstance. The child was not the least bit interested and repeatedly stood up, hung onto his father, and whined loudly. In this case, the whining was completely justified though did nothing to deter his father. When his father literally tried holding him down, he managed to squirm away and walk into the middle of the circle again voicing his unhappiness with the situation. Sadly, for that child, the father never relented. While the parent’s actions were incredibly negative for his child and frankly put a damper on the vibe for the rest of us, nothing was worse than what happened when the class was over. As his child headed in the direction of the playground several yards away, the father scooped up the toddler, strapped him into his stroller and announced that the child couldn’t play in the park because he hadn’t done his yoga. 

My heart broke a little bit for both of them. I had the suspicion that this will not be the last time the father fails to pay attention to what his child is trying to tell him. And unfortunately, will be creating frustration and potentially damaging situations for both of them.

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I acknowledge that there are times that children need to be challenged and even pushed a little bit, but expecting a very young child to participate in a teacher-led, highly structured yoga class for thirty minutes is not one them. Granted, there is the possibility that this child attended a previous class and joined in and even enjoyed it but the thing was, it wasn’t happening at this class. The fact that the child was then denied an opportunity for open-ended play at the playground just made matters worse.

So how does one know when a child is ready for a structured class, yoga or otherwise? Start by doing some homework. Check out websites like the American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Milestones to understand what are appropriate expectations. Remember there is a tremendous range of development so observe and know your child’s skill level. Ask yourself how long is your child’s attention span? Can they sit through the reading of a picture book? Can they follow simple one or two-step directions? What about their large motor skills, can they identify their body parts and control their movements?

Observe a class with your child and take cues from their interest in and willingness to join in. It is also important to remember that just because your child says they want to take a class or join a team, doesn’t mean they know what they are signing up for. I’m sure lots of children were asking to do soccer after the recent win by the Women’s US Soccer team, but that doesn’t mean they are developmentally ready for team sports. Young children’s limited experience with structured group activities and especially the concept of commitment, should allow them some wiggle room when they want to opt out. Be flexible and ready to leave a class or activity that is not going well.

And with or without classes, always make time for the playground. The opportunity it provides for physical activity and socialization cannot be overestimated.

Finally, have fun. If you and your child are not looking forward to the demands of a class, you should probably skip it.