When mindfulness was first introduced in my graduate school coursework, I was skeptical of its value, but I now see it as a powerful component of classroom management, and more importantly, a skill we can teach our students that will enable them to be much happier and more focused in and out of school.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness can be used as a therapeutic technique. How can it be a worthwhile classroom practice?
As faculty, we were invited to lead professional growth workshops for our colleagues this past semester and I was excited to share what I had learned about introducing students to mindfulness, as well as the benefits of yoga and movement to address anxiety and emotional competency.
Author Kaia Roman cites a child describing mindfulness as, “A way to stay yourself when you’re going through something troubling.” I have found that for my students, my own children, and myself, achieving mindfulness is truly beneficial, but it is much easier said than done! I hope these notes from my presentation to my colleagues will give you some ideas to use in your home or classroom.
Mindfulness is a mental and physical state that’s characterized by:
- being aware of your own physical state
- being present in the moment and focused on the problem at hand
- being nonjudgmental (assume positive intent)
- self-narration about what you are feeling as you go along ("I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I am still really upset.")
Why should I incorporate mindfulness in my classroom?
- Emotional intelligence is a phrase commonly used with mindfulness. It is the result we hope students will achieve if they practice mindfulness!
- Emotional Intelligence can be described as “the ability to manage one’s own emotions AND perceive the emotions of others” (Whittenburg and Kim, 2018).
- It is thought of as an essential skill needed for “…leadership, business, and everyday life, alongside critical thinking, drive, passion, and focus.” (Whittenburg and Kim)
- “Helping children improve their self-awareness and confidence, manage their disturbing emotions and impulses, and increase their empathy pays off, not just in improved behavior but in measurable academic achievement.” (Daniel Goleman)
Which children benefit most from mindfulness in the classroom?
- ALL OF THEM! Even the most well behaved, friendly, obedient children will eventually have an “off” day. Having these skills already in place will help them overcome a problem or challenge.
- You will see more noticeable improvement in children who are impulsive, anxious, struggle to remain focused, have trouble working with others cooperatively, and tend to be argumentative.
Mindfulness can mitigate anxiety
- When a child has anxiety, you cannot rationalize with them; for the child, their fear is very real and no matter how irrational it may seem to you, you cannot explain to them that their fear is NOT real.
- Anxiety may present itself as defiance, “not listening,” inattentiveness, in addition to “being scared”.
- When a child is anxious, their body can be in “fight or flight” mode, there is a physical response (increase in adrenaline, heart rate, blood flow) as well as a mental/emotional response.
- By helping them practice mindfulness, you can help reduce their body’s “fight or flight” response, ground them in THIS MOMENT, not be engaged in “what-ifs” or negative self-talk, and hopefully help them talk through a plan.
- Can take a GREAT DEAL of patience, understanding; sometimes saying nothing is the best option!
Activities to promote mindfulness
- Bell Listening Exercise: Ring a bell and listen to the sound and to the sound as it fades. Then continue to listen. What other sounds can you hear? This connects the listener to the present.
- Breathing Buddies/Shavasana: a slow breathing exercise connecting to the present and being self-aware.
- A designated item of significance can be used as a cue/reminder to the child that they are safe and/or need to begin the self-soothe process.
- Calming Glitter Jars — a fun way to cue kids to start using a mindfulness strategy to take a break
- Grounding (or how to prevent an anxiety attack): Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowly look around and find: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 emotion you feel. Grounding can help when you feel like you have lost control of your surroundings.
- Any activities in which students engage all five senses are beneficial. This could be any class or family activity where an adult prompts students to use their senses to answer questions.
- Any “mindfully meditative” activity; examples include hiking, gardening, yoga, art. These activities usually involve many textures, sounds and colors which make it easier for adults to engage their child’s awareness.
- Start small: Begin with engaging in mindfulness activities for one minute (especially if it is focusing on breathing and requiring the child to reflect inward quietly). This is a muscle that needs practice! Gradually lengthen the amount of time the child is able to spend practicing mindfulness!
- Feelings yoga
Be still like a mountain, not exploding like a volcano!
Scents to aid mindfulness:
- Lavender to help slow breathing, heart rate, and promote calmness
- Citrus (wild orange, lemon, grapefruit) to awaken senses, spark creativity and hopefulness
- Pine for cleansing and grounding
- Chamomile for calming
- Peppermint is refreshing and calming
- Scents are also great to use to aid memory, as when studying.
Mindfulness is not just for students!
- When teachers develop their own emotional intelligence, it "ultimately helps [them] understand how to regulate their own workday and find ways to regulate emotions so they are able to take care of themselves as well as their students” (Whittenburg and Kim).
- Find what works best for you AND that you enjoy, so you will want to do it!
- Not a lot of time? Make what time you have QUALITY time and don’t worry about its QUANTITY.
Under Pressure, by Lisa Damour, Ph.D. This book is about stress and anxiety in girls today. Although her research is primarily on girls, it is definitely applicable to both genders.