Life is stressful. It has always been stressful. Humans have used the ability to react to stress as a means of survival. Adrenaline rushes have allowed us to fight hard or to run fast against the dangers in human history and that has led to the thriving species we have today. However, as humans have become so proficient at protecting themselves and surviving that our brain’s reaction to stress has not reduced.
We can support children in developing life-long skills to combat stress through Mindfulness development. This is not a strategy that is for a specific group of children in this modern high pressure education system. All people who partake in mindfulness are rewarded with a way of better dealing with the stresses of life.
Top Tips for Developing Mindfulness In the Classroom
Teach the children how to breathe! Breathing is one of the most natural things a person can do. It is reflex that is hard-wired in our brains and it is also the foundation of most mindfulness exercises. Breathing changes energy from tension to relaxation by turning off our sympathetic nervous system that produces stress hormones.
How to belly breathe:
- Have your child sit or lay comfortably.
- Explain to the child that they are to pretend they have a balloon in their belly. Get them to place their hands on their belly.
- Next, have them take a deep breath in for five counts, blowing up their belly like a balloon. Then have them hold their breath for one count and slowly exhale for six counts; deflating the balloon in their belly.
- Continue to do this for a few minutes until they are calm and relaxed.
Use this strategy at any point you feel children need to stop and refocus.
2- Squish and Relax
Children have a natural tendency to tense up in a crisis. This exercise helps children to lower their stress levels and relax.
How to squish and relax:
- Have the child sit comfortably with a squish object (play dough, stress ball, sponge) in one hand.
- Ask them to take several deep belly breaths.
- Tell them to squeeze the object tightly like they are trying to pick up a heavy weight. Have them hold this pose for a count of five, then relax.
- Repeat the cycle for a minute or two. Then allow the child to rest for two deep belly breaths.
- Repeat with the other hand.
3- Create an Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude (being thankful) is a fundamental component of mindfulness. When we take the time to be grateful and lingering in the grateful moments, we start to be mindful of the good things in the world; we start to see more positive things; positivity breeds positivity and positivity and naturally created endorphins are released.
One strategy is to End each day with a positive thought.
Have each child tell the class what is one thing they have learned that day or what was the best part of their day in school before they leave for the day. These positive thoughts follow them out the door and home and help children and families to see the good things in life.
4- Teach children to STOP
We have some deeply laid neuropathways that allow us to fall into a habit of reactions. Children can get easily caught up in their emotions, upset, anxiety and frustrations. A vicious cycle can put you on edge and creates reactions devoid of all mindfulness.
We need to support children to focus on changing that perspective and challenging their response.
10 Second Mindfulness- STOP
This is a simple but effective strategy to refocus our attention.
S – Stop what you are doing.
T – Take a deep belly breathe.
O – Observe what is happening around you at this moment.
P – Proceed with what you were doing.
Get children to do this as often as they need to during the day. Use the key word STOP as a signal to use or practice the strategy.
5- Practice What You Preach
The #1 strategy in developing mindfulness in the classroom is for the teacher to develop his/her own mindfulness. If we are able to take control of our own stress, the way we interact with children can positively change. By looking after our own mental health and well being, we become stronger at supporting others in dealing with the demands of life.
- Practice the strategies you are teaching the children. Use them and let the children see you using them. (More strategies can be found at www.educationsvoice.wordpress.com.)
- Learn more about mindfulness. Try this FREE online mindfulness course that not only teaches your mindfulness strategies but also explains what is happening to you and your body when implementing the strategies. https://palousemindfulness.com
Mindfulness is not a silver bullet. It will not eliminate stress from your life or the lives of children. It will help everyone to take control of those stresses. The earlier in life this happens, the deeper the habits of positive mental health become giving our children the best chance they have to becoming strong, mentally healthy adults.
About the Author
Tammie Prince has been an educator for 28 years in two countries, UK and USA and is currently the Headteacher of a Primary School in West Yorkshire, England. She has written two books, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness In the Classroom and 50 Fantastic Ideas for Mindfulness which focuses on supporting teachers in developing positive mental health and well being strategies as part of the everyday life in the classroom. Tammie also has her own website: www.educationsvoice.wordpress.com, where more strategies can be found on developing mindfulness in the classroom.