As a school principal who also happens to teach mindfulness, it astounds me that most schools teach children math, English, history, technology, and science, but fail to educate them on how to cultivate healthy relationships with their own thoughts and emotions. A child may be able to perform higher level math, speak three languages, play the piano, and earn top grades, but if that child cannot regulate his or her emotions, that child will not find self-fulfillment or reach full potential.
Sadly, depression and suicide rates for teens and young adults in the United States is at an all-time high. While mindfulness is by no means a quick-fix panacea or a cure-all, it can help relieve some of the stress from our modern world. We like to tell the kids we work with that mindfulness is a superpower that they can use whenever they want.
We started a unique mindfulness program in our middle school several years back, and it has been a game-changer for us. It has helped our students cope with the stresses of everyday life by assisting them in strengthening important skills such as: emotional regulation, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, patience, focus, compassion for self and others, and self-control, among other things. While most schools still do not offer mindfulness as part of the curriculum, it is encouraging to see that many schools are starting to add mindfulness and SEL (Social and Emotional Leaning) programs. For instance, it was recently announced that 370 schools in England would be adding such programs to facilitate support for their students.
The recent outbreak of the coronavirus has only added to children’s’ fear and anxiety. Below are a few mindfulness tips that will help restore some of their calm and confidence during this trying time. They are great for children of all ages, and their parents!
1. Kids pick up on our vibes and energy. They are symbiotic creatures. If we are nervous and anxious, they will be, too. Model the behavior you want them to emulate.
2. Name it and tame it. Let them process their thoughts and emotions, instead of suppressing them. Talk them though what they are feeling. Children need to learn how to deal with difficult thoughts and emotions. Resisting them doesn’t make them go away. It only makes them stronger. If they can name it, they can tame it. Have them label how and what they are feeling and thinking. This builds self-awareness. In doing so, they are more apt to deal with what is going on in their minds.
3. Breathe to Succeed. One of the most simple and effective ways to get “unstuck” when fear or anxiety takes over is to take deep breaths. There are numerous benefits to this type of conscious breathing. When we breathe deeply, slowly, and fully, our bodies relax. When we relax, we allow space for greater absorption of oxygen into our body’s cells. More oxygen into our bodies means we have greater energy. In addition this helps to activate our parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which calms us down, as opposed to the “Fight or Flight” branch which “speeds up” our minds and physical sensations. As a result, our stress hormones and our heart rates are lowered and we can function more rationally. Encourage your child to take deep breaths when he or she feels stressed or anxious. Our favorite breathing technique in our middle school is 5-1-7:
1. Sit down. Sit up straight. Close your eyes.
2. Breathe in and out of through your nose, not mouth.
3. Breathe from your stomach, not your chest (“big belly breathing”).
4. Start by taking a deep breath. Work it from your stomach up to your nose. Inhale for 5 seconds.
5. Hold your breath for 1 second.
6. Exhale slowly, out of your nose for 7 seconds.
7. Do this five to ten times.
4. Meditation. Once we demystifying it, meditation is simply “self-observation.” Sitting with our thoughts and emotions on a daily basis teaches us how to be the “observer of our thoughts.” In other words, it enables us to learn how to be more responsive instead of reactive. Meditation also shows us that our thoughts are “mental activity,” not always absolute truths. There are some wonderful apps you can explore with your children which will help you get started on a daily meditation practice. I recommend: Insight Meditation app, Headspace, and Calm.
5. Journaling. Journaling is one of the best ways children can learn to deal with inner and external chaos. I highly recommend you encourage your child to start keeping a daily journal. Not only can this process be therapeutic, but it can also spark their creative energy. An added bonus is that it can make them better writers.
6. Flip the Script on Stress. A lack of self-awareness often renders us clueless to when we are stressed out. The first step in dealing with stress is knowing when we are stressed. Teach your child to listen to his or her body. Our bodies have “built-in alarms” that tell us when we are stressed. One of the most effective ways for lessening our stress is to simply be aware of it. Trying to mentally resist only makes its grip on us stronger. Instead of trying to fight it, bring your attention to these areas of the body that tend to respond to stress:
· rapid heartbeat
· sweaty palms
· butterflies in the stomach
· heavy breathing (tightness of breath)
· tight feeling in the throat
When we are stressed, we may feel one of these feelings or several of them. By bringing our attention to it and simply saying to ourselves, “I am feeling stressed right now,” we can learn to loosen its feeling over us.
These are just a few mindfulness techniques to help your child. For more information, feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, the current Head of Middle School at Lausanne Collegiate School, will begin his tenure as the school's Director of SEL & Mindfulness in June. His website is www.greggraber.com