Are you practicing and teaching mindfulness?
Mindfulness programming with children and in schools is becoming a more popular practice. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or therapist, is there anything stopping you from practicing mindfulness yourself or from using it with children?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness of what is happening in the present moment, accepting thoughts, feelings, sensations, and observations with kindness. Mindfulness is a skill we can develop in order to improve attention and self-regulation.
Many occupational therapists use mindfulness as an intervention tool with students on their caseload. However, occupational therapists can also advocate for universal mindfulness programming in their school/district by educating administration/staff and consulting with teachers on mindfulness implementation.
Below are 7 Myths that may be preventing you or others from implementing mindfulness.
Myth 1 – Mindfulness is just sitting silently.
Meditation is one method of practicing mindfulness, but there are many other components and ways to do so. Explore all types of mindfulness practices to find which ones work best for you! Two examples include:
- Mindful Movement: Try yoga, tai chi, or simply bringing mindful awareness to walking.
- Mindful Eating/Tasting: Choose a food or meal and eat very slowly, paying attention to the texture and taste.
Myth 2 – Mindfulness is religious.
Mindfulness skills are built on the ability to focus on the breath. We all are breathing all the time, and breathing has a physiological effect on the body. Taking slow deep breaths can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, whereas quick shallow breathing can have the opposite effect. Mindfulness is based on neuroscience. If in the school setting, education may be needed for parental support.
Myth 3 – “I do not have time for mindfulness.”
It is universally recommended that in order to teach mindfulness, you should practice mindfulness yourself. Integrate it into your daily routine by taking just a few minutes each day to bring your focus to your breath. Also, think of one activity you do every day that you could do more mindfully, perhaps, driving or brushing your teeth. You may choose to use an app to help you get started; for this set aside 5-10 minutes each day.
Warning: if you are brand new to practicing mindfulness, it may be harder than it sounds! When I first started practicing, it was surprising to me how frequently, throughout my day, I was not being mindful. There was a realization that this was an area of growth I did not even know I needed.
Just remember part of mindfulness is being kind and non-judgmental – accept yourself wherever you are at and know that it is worth the effort.
How to implement mindfulness into the school day routine with students
Start by integrating 1-minute intervals of deep breaths throughout the day. You may also add mindfulness-based journal prompts to your daily journal time, read a children’s book about mindfulness, or add a kindness jar to your class. Research has shown that mindfulness in the classroom can result in increased teaching time (Mindful Life Project, 2016) and improved teaching efficacy (Meiklejohn et al. 2012).
Myth 4 – “I do not have the financial resources to implement mindfulness into my classroom.”
Breathing is free! If there are no finances, breathwork can still be integrated into the school day routine. There are free online resources, such as the Every Moment Counts: Calm Moment Cards Program. This program is an embedded program to promote the positive mental health of students by providing ways to respond to situational stressors throughout the day.
If you are a teacher or administrator looking for an affordable full curriculum, you may want to consider MindUp, from The Hawn Foundation.
Myth 5 – There is a lack of evidence for mindfulness with children.
Although it is true that more high-quality research is needed for mindfulness with children, the research that is out there is very promising and a recent meta-analysis (Dunning et al., 2019) does support the use of mindfulness-based interventions to improve the mental health and well-being of children. Additionally, there are no associated risks of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness practice teaches coping strategies to help with self-regulation.
Myth 6 – Kids do not need mindfulness.
The term “positive mental health” acknowledges that health is more than the absence of illness, and we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Having positive mental health means that one is able to engage productively in activities and has the ability to utilize coping skills.
According to the most recent children’s mental health report (Child Mind Institute, 2018):
- 30% of kids are affected by anxiety at one point or another.
- There has been a 17% increase in anxiety over the past 10 years.
- 80% of those affected by anxiety never receive proper treatment. In fact, only 1% seek treatment in the year symptoms begin.
- Untreated anxiety disorders are associated with an increased risk for depression, school failure, and substance abuse.
All children need mental health promotion, and mindfulness is a tool to do so.
Myth 7 – Kids would not like mindfulness.
Mindfulness activities for children should be fun! In my experience, they do enjoy it. Each of us may have mindfulness practices we like and ones do not like. So, do not be discouraged if students do not like the first exercise or activity you try.
Mindfulness can be implemented with children in a multitude of ways. Take time to have them simply notice their breathing, and then take some deep breaths. Make this more fun by spinning pinwheels with your breath or making a dragon craft to breathe “fire” through.
A couple of breathing exercises (that do not require additional materials) are listed below.
- Rainbow Breaths: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O29e4rRMrV4&t=2s
- Bunny Breaths: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8-MrO-so0Q
- Use a visual to help pace breathing
- Rub hands together (to create heat) while inhaling. Then bring hands to mouth and exhale into hands.
Use a variety of activities with kids to have them focus their attention on one sense:
- Sight: Try activities such as “find the difference” worksheets or project an optical illusion for the class to decipher. Or ask them to try and find something in the classroom they have never noticed before.
- Sound: Play a game where kids have to listen carefully, such as telephone, Simon says, or ships and sailors.
- Touch: Hide different textured objects in a box (such as a tissue box) and guess what is inside.
- Smell: Try to identify different scents (such as a cotton ball soaked in vinegar or lemon juice, coffee beans, small pieces of paper colored with a scented marker, cinnamon sticks, a tea bag, etc.) hidden in a small container such as a film canister.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but we should be focusing on our Mental Health all year long! Promote the positive mental health of yourself and those around you by integrating mindfulness into your daily routine and the daily routine of your children and/or the children you work with.
Child Mind Institute (2018). Children’s mental health report. Retrieved from: https://childmind.org/our-impact/childrens-mental-health-report/2018report/
Dunning, D., Griffiths, K., Kuyken, W., Crane, C., Parker, J., & Dalgleish, T. Research Review: The effects of mindfulness-based intervention on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60(3), 244-258. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12980
Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M.L., Griffin, M.L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., …Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Springer Science+Business Media. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0094-5
Mindful Life Project. (2016). Results. Retrieved from http://www.mindfullifeproject.org/results.html
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Valerie Gilroy is an occupational therapy doctoral student at St. Ambrose University, class of 2019. Her doctoral topic has been focused on promoting positive mental health in the school setting through mindfulness.