Mindfulness allows children to cultivate a greater awareness of others, the world and themselves. All children need to learn how to pay attention, focus and concentrate, listen and learn and to be wise in relationships with themselves (their thoughts and emotions) and others.
These are skills which are useful all the way through life not only in the classroom. Mindfulness means noticing and paying attention to our senses during an activity, for example listening to the sounds in our environment, observing breathing or noticing the detail of something we are looking at.
Research has shown that meditation can help children:
• Feel peaceful and tranquil
• Fall asleep more easily
• Cope with stress and anxiety
• Increase focus and concentration
• Improve relationships
• Handle difficult emotions
• Develop creativity and imagination
• Calm themselves
Mindfulness can help teachers and parents to understand a child’s perspective and feel closer to the child.
Children have a lot to deal with: change, loss, bullying, criticism, low self–esteem and their own bodies moving through periods of rapid growth and development. They have many tasks to do such as making friends, handling bullies, dealing with school work and trying to “belong”. Sometimes comparing themselves with others can lead to low self–esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
Just like adults, children react to stress in many different ways. They may start to struggle at school, become forgetful, angry and irritable or even have physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach cramps. Some children bite their nails, wet the bed or develop a stammer. Others start to dislike school, fall out with friends or teachers or become very withdrawn and shy. Mindfulness teaches children coping strategies.
Which children benefit from mindfulness?
Mindfulness is suitable for all children to help them calm the churning thoughts in their heads, learn to feel and understand their emotions and improve their concentration. It also helps children with low self–esteem to know that it is ok to be themselves, children who feel insecure, thinking that they are not good enough and children with ADHD, dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders. Most children really benefit and enjoy mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness gives children a different approach to dealing with real issues such as emotional outbursts and impulse behaviour.
Fight or flight:
The fight–or–flight response refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that we perceive to be threatening. It is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to stay to deal with a threat or to run away to safety. Educating children about this response can help them to understand what is happening in their bodies and to recognise that this is a normal process. Sometimes the physical symptoms of fight or flight can be very frightening for a child.
Physical signs of fight of flight
• Rapid heartbeat and breathing
• Pale or flushed skin
• Dilated pupils
Examples of mindfulness exercises and techniques:
• Glitter jar – The glitter represents thoughts and feelings that can at times become overwhelming. When the jar is shaken it is difficult to see clearly. However, when the jar is still (like the child when meditating) the glitter settles, and it is much easier to see things clearly.
• Paying attention to the breath – Children pay attention to the pattern of their breathing. They can sit or lie on yoga mats and focus attention on the movement of the breath. For younger children storytelling and guided meditation can be useful. Children are encouraged to notice their thoughts, feelings and the sensations in their bodies.
• Mindful movement – Yoga, dancing and mindful walking.
• Observing thoughts and feelings using metaphors.
• Create a worry box
There are many ways in which mindfulness can be incorporated into teaching and the exercises do not have to last long. Regular practice can have very positive results. Mindfulness cannot take away all the challenges children face, but it helps them build the resilience to deal with those challenges and develop a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.
If you would like to find out more about how mindfulness can be incorporated into teaching, take a look at Suzanne’s website!
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to read more, it featured in our Everything Curriculum magazine Issue 5 which focuses on the introduction of relationship education and health education in primary school teaching.