25 Fun Mindfulness Activities and Exercises for Children and Teens

“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being” (Eckhart Tolle).

Mindfulness can add to the quality of our lives in numerous ways, from nurturing a sense of inner peace to improving the quality of a workout, from enhancing self-confidence to facilitating deeper and more meaningful relationships with others.

In children specifically, mindfulness has been found to:

It’s important for caregivers and educators to provide age-appropriate mindfulness practices for children.

Fostering mindfulness through small tools such as pictures, objects, food, simple movements, and music for preschoolers can help them develop an ability to focus attention at a great level.

For instance, in a study by Flook et al., (2015), they had an activity called ‘’Belly Buddies’’ in which kids listened to music while being asked to notice the sensation of small tone on their stomachs rising and falling as they breathe. Simple activities like these can have long-lasting developmental benefits when practiced regularly.

To get started, check out the fun mindfulness activities designed specifically for children below.

Oh, and enjoy! These exercises are extremely fun to do with kids.

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4 Fun Mindfulness Activities and Exercises for Children

Mindful Posing

One easy way for children to dip their toes into mindfulness is through the simple method of body poses. To get your kids interested, tell them that doing fun poses can help them feel strong, brave, and happy.

Have them go somewhere quiet and familiar, a place they feel safe. Next, tell them to try one of the following two poses:

Spidey Senses

While you’re on the subject of superheroes, there is a fun and easy way to introduce your kids to paying attention to the present.

Instruct your kids to turn on their “Spidey senses”, the super-focused senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch that Spiderman uses to keep tabs on the world around him. This will encourage them to pause and focus their attention on the present, opening their awareness to the information their senses bring in (Karen Young, 2017).

This is a classic mindfulness exercise, packaged in a fun and easy to understand format that kids will find no difficulty in trying out.

The Mindful Jar

This activity can teach children about how strong emotions can take hold, and how to find peace when these strong emotions come up.

“Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too).

[Now put the jar down in front of them.]

Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer” (Karen Young, 2017).

This exercise not only helps children learn about how their emotions can cloud their thoughts, it also facilitates the practice of mindfulness while focusing on the swirling glitter in the jar.

The Safari exercise is another fun way to help kids learn mindfulness. This activity turns an average, everyday walk outside into an exciting new adventure.

Tell your kids that you will be going on a safari, and their goal is to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and any other animals as they can. Anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies is of interest, and they’ll need to focus all of their senses to find them, especially the little ones (Karen Young, 2017).

A similar exercise for adults is the mindfulness walk. This exercise provokes the same response in children that the mindful walk brings out in adults: a state of awareness and grounding in the present.

If you’re interested in more information on how to encourage the practice of mindfulness in children and teens, you can check out the other exercises from this website. Otherwise, head on to the next section where we lay out some tips that you may find helpful.

15 Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids and Teenagers

When you are trying to teach your kids or young clients about what mindfulness is and how it can benefit them, it’s best to start off with a few simple guidelines:

Megan Cowan, co-founder, and co-director at the Mindful Schools program in Oakland, also has some tips on how to successfully teach mindfulness to kids (2010):

Cowan (2010) also includes a short script if you’d like to use her mini-lesson.

Relay the following instructions to your kids:

For more in-depth tips and ideas on teaching mindfulness to children, check out the book Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community. The website from editor and children’s book author Annaka Harris also provides some great ideas for exercises that teach mindfulness to children.

8 Mindfulness Games, YouTube Videos, and Apps to Support Your Teachings

Technology is having a profound impact on learning and development, sometimes in a positive direction and sometimes by bringing new challenges. To ensure that you are using technology to your advantage when it comes to teaching children mindfulness, give some of these resources a try.

Mindfulness for Children: Meditations for Kids

This is an application that can be downloaded through the Android app store, iTunes, Google Music, or the Apple app store, with multiple versions available. There are a few versions that must be purchased and one free version, which offers fewer conveniences than the paid versions.

This app is centered around guided meditation that is designed to help children wind down before bed. It includes relaxing nature sounds and instructions in a plain language that children can easily understand. The app can guide the user through a body scan, visualizations, and breathing exercises.

Reviews for this app have been positive, and the developers report that parents have seen some reduction in ADHD symptoms through using this app.

For more information or to give this app a try, visit the website.

Smiling Minds App

Another application that is popular for children as young as 7 is the Smiling Mind app. This app is available through the Apple app store as well as the Google Play store and is free to download and use.

This app offers similar features to the Mindfulness for Children app, including a body scan activity. There are dozens of modules with hundreds of sessions available, customized for well-being, education, and the workplace (for adults).

If you’d like to check out the reviews for this app or learn more about it, visit the website.

Still Quiet Place

If you’d like to use a video to help your kids learn how to engage in mindfulness, the Mindfulness Exercises for Kids: Still Quiet Place video is a great resource. This animated video includes cute characters, fun colors, and imagery, and can help students learn how to go to a “still quiet place.”

Check out the video here, and scroll down to the link below the video to see more activities from GoZen.com.

Mindfulness Games for Kids

If you want to try to get kids interested in practicing mindfulness with fun and interactive games, try these ideas from the Kids Activities Blog:

If you want to know about more games you can play with children to teach them about mindfulness, check out the book Mindful Games: Sharing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children, Teens, and Families by Susan Kaiser Greenland.

3 Mindfulness Training Classes For Children with Anxiety

Mindfulness practice can be an especially important component of a child’s life if they suffer from anxiety. Learning about mindfulness and how to engage in mindfulness can help a child realize that while a little bit of worrying is normal, there are useful coping methods and strategies to decrease anxiety based on mindfulness.

Aside from the Mindful Schools program mentioned earlier, there are some classes and programs designed especially for children, and even a few that are structured for children dealing with anxiety.

While a course isn’t strictly necessary for teaching children mindfulness, it can be a great help to have a format, lessons, and exercises laid out in an easy-to-administer package.

The Basics: Teaching Essential Mindfulness Practices and Skills

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a staple of practicing mindfulness and is often the foundation of other exercises. To help kids learn how to engage in mindful breathing, you can use a video like the one below:

This video guides children through a breathing meditation by instructing them to imagine a sailboat that rises and falls as they breathe; with each inhale and exhale, the boat moves gently on top of the water. They also get an opportunity to envision their breath as a color and focus on the experience of their breath moving through their nostrils.

Finally, the video ends with the exercise of the children pretending they used to be a fish and paying attention to how it would feel to breathe through their lungs for the first time.

Body Scan

The body scan is one of the basic practices in mindfulness, and it is an easy one to teach to children.

kid doing body scan in grass - Teaching Essential Mindfulness Practices and Skills body scan kids
This simple exercise gets kids to be more aware of their bodies and helps them find a way to be present in the moment.

Heartbeat Exercise

Paying attention to one’s heartbeat has a role in many mindfulness exercises and activities. Kids can learn how to apply this mindfulness practice to their own lives as well.

Tell your kids to jump up and down in place or do jumping jacks for one minute. When they have finished, have them sit down and put a hand over their heart. Instruct them to close their eyes and pay attention only to their heartbeat and, perhaps, their breath as well (Roman, 2015).

This easy exercise shows children how to notice their heartbeat and helps them practice their focus. These skills will come in handy as they start engaging in more advanced mindfulness activities.

Mindfulness Meditation for Very Young Children

You might be thinking that these tips and exercises could be excellent for teaching mindfulness in elementary or middle school, and you’re right! These are wonderful resources for helping a child discover the benefits of mindfulness.

But you can start even sooner than elementary school when it comes to teaching mindfulness. Some mindfulness exercises can even be started before Kindergarten!

For example, one blogging mother laid out her five strategies for teaching young children mindfulness, which she has used with a child as young as three.

Her strategies are:

breathing kid - mindfulness activities

The Benefits Of Mindfulness In Schools (K12) + Videos

Teaching mindfulness in schools Childhood and adolescence are important developmental stages that construct the groundwork for mental health in adults. In recent literature, mindfulness-based school programs using age-appropriate techniques have demonstrated a range of social, cognitive, and emotional benefits for elementary and middle-school students.

Cognitive Benefits

Executive function is a set of mental skills that constitutes attention, switching focus, planning, organizing and remembering details. Research in education suggests that mindfulness practice can lead to improvements in executive function in children. For instance, in the study of Flook et al., (2010) conducted on 3rd graders, students who went through an 8-week mindfulness program showed significant improvements in behavioral regulation, metacognition and focus compared to the controls group who didn’t go through the mindfulness program.

In another study, students who went through a 24-week of mindfulness training also scored higher in attentional measures after the intervention in elementary school (Napoli et al., 2004). In another recent study conducted on preschoolers, children who went through mindfulness curriculum for 12 weeks earned higher marks on academic performance measures and showed greater improvements in areas that predict future success (Flook et al., 2015).

Social Benefits

A social skill is any skill that we use to interact and communicate with others. Deficits and excesses in social behavior can affect learning, understanding, and the classroom climate. A recent research conducted on lower-income and ethnic minority elementary school children show that a 5-week mindfulness curriculum can lead to better participation in activities and caring and respect for others in 9th-grade children (Black et al., 2013).

Emotional Benefits

Emotional health, which is a positive sense of well-being, is an important component of child and adolescent development. Emotional problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression can affect self-esteem, performance, and social interaction to a great extent in students. Recent findings suggest that mindfulness practice may facilitate the ability to manage stress and lead to improved well-being in students.

According to a study by Schonert-Reichl and his colleagues (2010), mindfulness practice leads to higher scores on self-report measures of optimism and positive emotions in elementary school students. Moreover, in a study conducted by Wall (2005), self-reported findings showed children feeling calmer, had an enhanced experience of well-being, and improved sleep after a 5-week modified mindfulness-based stress reduction program in 11-13 years of age.

Videos on Mindfulness in Schools

A Take Home Message

Plenty of research shows that mindfulness is capable of improving mental health and well-being, attention, self-regulation, and social competency when well taught and practiced in children and adolescents.

Introducing mindfulness-based programs in schools and in everyday practice can have a life-long impact on the psychological, social, and cognitive well-being of children and teens. So go out and help your child to practice and enjoy simple mindfulness exercises when they are young.

Children as young as pre-school age have successfully completed mindfulness exercises and enjoyed their experiences as well.

Do you have kids or work with kids on a regular basis? Try these tips and activities out, and let us know how they worked in the comments section below.

Good luck, and remember this old saying:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

  • Beach, S. R. “Baby Buddhas – Five strategies for teaching mindfulness to children. Retrieved from www.leftbrainbuddha.com.
  • Cowan, M. (2010, May 13). Tips for teaching mindfulness. Retrieved from www.greatergood.berkeley.edu
  • Crescentini, C., Capurso, V., Furlan, S., & Fabbro, F. (2016). Mindfulness-oriented meditation for primary school children: Effects on attention and psychological well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 805. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00805
  • Daigneault, I., Dion, J., Hébert, M., & Bourgeois, C. (2016). Mindfulness as mediator and moderator of post-traumatic symptomatology in adolescence following childhood sexual abuse or assault. Mindfulness, 7, 1306-1315. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0571-3
  • Karen Young. (2017). Mindfulness for children: Fun, effective ways to strengthen mind, body, spirit. Retrieved from www.heysigmund.com
  • Garey, J. (2017). Mindfulness in the classroom: How it helps kids regulate behavior and focus on learning. Retrieved from https://childmind.org.
  • Harris, A. “Mindfulness for children.” Retrieved from www.annakaharris.com
  • “MonkeyMind and me: A mindfulness course for children”. (2017). Published by MeetTheSelf and YesCreative. Retrieved from www.meettheself.com/classes
  • Roman, K. (2015, April 2). 7 fun ways to teach your kids mindfulness. Retrieved from www.mindbodygreen.com
  • Zhang, D., Chan, S. K. C., Lo, H. H. M., Chan, C. Y. H., Chan, J. C. Y., Ting, K. T., Gao, T. T., Lai, K. Y. C., Bögels, S. M., & Wong, S. Y. S. (2016). Mindfulness-based intervention for Chinese children with ADHD and their parents: A pilot mixed-method study. Mindfulness, 8, 1-14. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0660-3
  • Zhou, Z., Liu, Q., Niu, G., Sun, X., & Fan, C. (2017). Bullying victimization and depression in Chinese children: A moderated mediation model of resilience and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 137-142. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.07.040

Mindfulness in Schools references:

  • Black, D.S., & Fernando, R. (2013). Mindfulness training and classroom behavior among lower income and ethnic minority elementary school children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1-5.
  • Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., … & Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology26(1), 70-95.
  • Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum. Developmental psychology51(1), 44.
  • Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students: The attention academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology21(1), 99-125.
  • Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre-and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness1(3), 137-151.
  • T, K. A. (2014). Kinder kindergarten: Mindfulness tips for preschoolers and their families. Retrieved from here
  • Wall, R. B. (2005). Tai chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction in a Boston public middle school. Journal of Pediatric Health Care19(4), 230-237.
  • Wisner, B. L. (2014). An exploratory study of mindfulness meditation for alternative school students: perceived benefits for improving school climate and student functioning. Mindfulness5(6), 626-638.

 

Mindfulness in Schools references:

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Harvard researchers study how mindfulness may change the brain in depressed patients

First of two parts

In 2015, 16.1 million Americans reported experiencing major depression during the previous year, often struggling to function while grappling with crippling darkness and despair.

There’s an arsenal of treatments at hand, including talk therapy and antidepressant medications, but what’s depressing in itself is that they don’t work for every patient.

“Many people don’t respond to the frontline interventions,” said Benjamin Shapero, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Depression Clinical and Research Program. “Individual cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful for many people; antidepressant medications help many people. But it’s also the case that many people don’t benefit from them as well. There’s a great need for alternative approaches.”

Shapero is working with Gaëlle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology at HMS and a neuroscientist at MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, to explore one alternative approach: mindfulness-based meditation.

In recent decades, public interest in mindfulness meditation has soared. Paralleling, and perhaps feeding, the growing popular acceptance has been rising scientific attention. The number of randomized controlled trials — the gold standard for clinical study — involving mindfulness has jumped from one in the period from 1995‒1997 to 11 from 2004‒2006, to a whopping 216 from 2013‒2015, according to a recent article summarizing scientific findings on the subject.

Studies have shown benefits against an array of conditions both physical and mental, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But some of those findings have been called into question because studies had small sample sizes or problematic experimental designs. Still, there are a handful of key areas — including depression, chronic pain, and anxiety — in which well-designed, well-run studies have shown benefits for patients engaging in a mindfulness meditation program, with effects similar to other existing treatments.

“There are a few applications where the evidence is believable. But the effects are by no means earth-shattering,” Desbordes said. “We’re talking about moderate effect size, on par with other treatments, not better. And then there’s a bunch of other things under study with preliminary evidence that is encouraging but by no means conclusive. I think that’s where it’s at. I’m not sure that is exactly how the public understands it at this point.”

Researcher Gaelle Desbordes is probing mindfulness meditation’s effect on depression, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to take before and after images of the brains of depressed patients who’ve learned to meditate. The work seeks to understand the internal brain processes affected by mindfulness meditation training in this population.

Video by Kai-Jae Wang/Harvard Staff

Desbordes’ interest in the topic stems from personal experience. She began meditating as a graduate student in computational neuroscience at Boston University, seeking respite from the stress and frustration of academic life. Her experience convinced her that something real was happening to her and prompted her to study the subject more closely, in hopes of shedding enough light to underpin therapy that might help others.

“My own interest comes from having practiced those [meditation techniques] and found them beneficial, personally. Then, being a scientist, asking ‘How does this work? What is this doing to me?’ and wanting to understand the mechanisms to see if it can help others,” Desbordes said. “If we want that to become a therapy or something offered in the community, we need to demonstrate [its benefits] scientifically.”

Desbordes’ research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which not only takes pictures of the brain, as a regular MRI does, but also records brain activity occurring during the scan. In 2012, she demonstrated that changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating. Desbordes took before-and-after scans of subjects who learned to meditate over the course of two months. She scanned them not while they were meditating, but while they were performing everyday tasks. The scans still detected changes in the subjects’ brain activation patterns from the beginning to the end of the study, the first time such a change — in a part of the brain called the amygdala — had been detected.

Functional MRI (left) showing activation in the amygdala when participants were watching images with emotional content before learning meditation. After eight weeks of training in mindful attention meditation (right) note the amygdala is less activated after the meditation training.

Courtesy of Gaelle Desbordes

In her current work, she is exploring meditation’s effects on the brains of clinically depressed patients, a group for whom studies have shown meditation to be effective. Working with patients selected and screened by Shapero, Desbordes is performing functional magnetic resonance imaging scans before and after an eight-week course in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT.

During the scans, participants complete two tests, one that encourages them to become more aware of their bodies by focusing on their heartbeats (an exercise related to mindfulness meditation), and the other asking them to reflect on phrases common in the self-chatter of depressed patients, such as “I am such a loser,” or “I can’t go on.” After a series of such comments, the participants are asked to stop ruminating on the phrases and the thoughts they trigger. Researchers will measure how quickly subjects can disengage from negative thoughts, typically a difficult task for the depressed.

The process will be repeated for a control group that undergoes muscle relaxation training and depression education instead of MBCT. While it’s possible that patients in the control part of the study also will have reduced depressive symptoms, Desbordes said it should occur via different mechanisms in the brain, a difference that may be revealed by the scans. The work, which received funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, has been underway since 2014 and is expected to last into 2019.

Desbordes said she wants to test one prevalent hypothesis about how MBCT works in depressed patients: that the training boosts body awareness in the moment, called interoception, which, by focusing their attention on the here and now, arms participants to break the cycle of self-rumination.

“We know those brain systems involved with interoception, and we know those involved with rumination and depression. I want to test, after taking MBCT, whether we see changes in these networks, particularly in tasks specifically engaging them,” Desbordes said.

Desbordes is part of a community of researchers at Harvard and its affiliated institutions that in recent decades has been teasing out whether and how meditation works.

In the 1970s, when transcendental meditation surged in popularity, Herbert Benson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and what was then Beth Israel Hospital, explored what he called “The Relaxation Response,” identifying it as the common, functional attribute of transcendental meditation, yoga, and other forms of meditation, including deep religious prayer. Benson described this response — which recent investigators say is not as common as he originally thought — as the opposite of the body’s adrenalin-charged “fight or flight” response, which was also identified at Harvard, by physiologist Walter Cannon Bradford in 1915.

Other MGH researchers also are studying the effects of meditation on the body, including Sara Lazar, who in 2012 used fMRI to show that the brains of subjects thickened after an eight-week meditation course. Work is ongoing at MGH’s Benson-Henry Institute; at HMS and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’sOsher Center for Integrative Medicine; at the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, where Zev Schuman-Olivier directs the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion; and among a group of nearly a dozen investigators at Harvard and other Northeastern institutions, including Desbordes and Lazar, who are collaborating through the Mindfulness Research Collaborative.

Among the challenges researchers face is defining mindfulness itself. The word has come to describe a meditation-based practice whose aim is to increase one’s sense of being in the present, but it has also been used to describe a nonmeditative state in which subjects set aside their mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now, as in the work of Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer.

Another challenge involves sorting through the many variations of meditative practice.

Recent scientific exploration has largely focused on the secular practice of mindful meditation, but meditation is also a component of several ancient religious traditions, with variations. Even within the community practicing secular mindful meditation, there are variations that may be scientifically meaningful, such as how often one meditates and how long the sessions are. Desbordes herself has an interest in a variation called compassion meditation, whose aim is to increase caring for those around us.

Amid this variation, an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course developed in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center has become something of a clinical and scientific standard. The course involves weekly two- or 2½-hour group training sessions, 45 minutes of daily work on one’s own, and a daylong retreat. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy used in Desbordes’ current work is a variation on that program and incorporates elements of cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves talk therapy effective in treating depression.

Ultimately, Desbordes said she’s interested in teasing out just what in mindful meditation can work against depression. If researchers can identify what elements are effective, the therapy may be refined to be more successful. Shapero is also interested in using the study to refine treatment. Since some patients benefit from mindfulness meditation and some do not, he’d like to better understand how to differentiate between the two.

“Once we know which ingredients are successful, we can do more of that and less, maybe, of the parts that are less effective,” Desbordes said.

Research funding includes the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

For more information about the Mindfulness & Meditation program at Harvard University, visit its website.

The Best Books To Teach Kids Self-Control, Mindfulness, and Regulation

One of my favorite ways to talk about regulation with my son and to give him insight into new self-regulation skills is to read books.

Books are such a powerful tool for parents — they are a way to connect, a way to calm down, and a way to teach life lessons.  I’ve listed some of our favorites below.

The first list includes books that directly teach children about self-control strategies and are great to help children reflect on their own ability to self-regulate in various situations.

The second list below includes books that teach children to breathe through emotions, to be able to pause before acting, to be mindful of their bodies and more. Through the methods of mindfulness, children can learn self-awareness and self-calming strategies that will become life-long skills for handling stress and emotions.

And finally, the last list below includes fun picture books that show characters in laughable and relatable situations. Kids will want to read these books over and over, and maybe they will learn a few self-regulation skills along the way.

Books That Teach Regulation Strategies To Kids
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Best Books That Teach Regulation Strategies To Kids

1.What Were You Thinking? A Story about Learning to Control Impulses – This book follows a day in the life of Braden, a 3rd grader who is learning how to control his impulses. Braden wants to be funny and blurts out things he shouldn’t, reacts to things he believes to be unfair without thinking, and eats a bunch of cupcakes without thinking about who or what they might be for. Luckily, Braden has some pretty understanding adults in his life who give him some tips on how to start controlling his impulses: Stop, Think and decide if your actions will make the situation Better or Worse.

This book opens a lot of opportunities to talk about -self-regulation in the school setting. Things like when you can be funny when you should be serious, how to react to situations when you are angry, and thinking through issues.

My son especially likes the Better or Worse? question, this is something he says to himself often and I believe helps him think through the consequences of his actions before he acts. If you like this book, there are a few others by the same author which address the executive function skill of flexible thinking: Of Course, It’s a Big Deal and My Day is Ruined!

2. What Should Danny Do? – This book also goes through several choices a boy named Danny makes over the course of his week. He loves soccer, superheroes, and ninjas and he has his very own superpower –The power to choose!

The reader gets the power to choose in this book too. The story follows along in a “choose your own adventure” style. Your child gets to help Danny make decisions and sometimes those decisions lead to good outcomes and sometimes not.

The first time we read it, my son made the “right” decisions. It was pretty obvious which the better choices would be. Then he wanted to go back and pick some of the poor choices. This shows kids how actions and choices have consequences.

Many of the consequences are natural and encourage empathetic thinking, but some of them don’t fit perfectly with a positive/gentle parenting style. That was okay for us, my son seemed to understand that those were Danny’s consequences and his consequences wouldn’t necessarily be the same. Overall, he got the idea that your choices lead to certain outcomes.

Where the book really shines is when Danny makes good choices and is proud of his day and also when Danny doesn’t make good choices, the passages where his parents reinforce the power to choose. For example, Danny’s Dad says: “I heard your day wasn’t so good, Danny…Every superhero makes mistakes, and that’s okay. But the best superheroes learn from their mistakes and use their Power to Choose Wisely.”  

I recommend this book — the concept of choosing your adventure is great and the overall tone of the message is positive. Just be aware that if you follow positive/gentle parenting, some of the consequences (going to your room, no chocolate for a week) are “punishment” consequences.

There is a new book in this series that follows Danny throughout a day a school: What Should Danny Do? School Day

3. How to Be a Super-Hero Called Self-Control – Following along on the super-hero theme, this book features a hero called self-control who teaches children (aged 4-7 years) how to handle difficult feelings like anxiety, frustration, and anger. The back of the book has resources for parents.  There is a book by the same author older children (aged 7- 14 years) too, The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate their Emotions and Senses

4. What To Do When You Are Mad: A Workbook for Kids- If your child struggles to regulate big emotions like anger or has a big temper, this workbook is for them. This workbook helps kids mindfully identify signs of anger in their body, how to vent their anger in healthy ways, and how to use their angry energy to solve problems. Based on self0regulation theory, this is a great book to learn how to work through big mad emotions.

Best Books About Mindfulness for Kids

Mindfulness is the ultimate self-regulation tool. If we can help our children become aware of how their bodies react when stressed and how to calm that stress and the chatter of the mind we are giving them a skill that will use for life. In fact, developmental psychologists have found that mindfulness training has been shown to increase attentional self-regulation in children.

These books capture the essence of paying attention to the inside and living in the moment. We often focus on teaching our children to pay attention to what’s going on around them, but really first they must be able to tune in to themselves. This is the first step in mindfulness.

5. My Magic Breath – What a gorgeous book this is! I love this book which teaches children to breathe out their thoughts and feelings right onto the pages of the book. This book introduces the concept as breathing as a way to recenter oneself when thoughts and feelings race through your mind. “Do you have a magic breath? When you are worried, or nervous, or sad, take a deep breath. Now let it go. Did that help you feel better? See? It’s magic!” Learning to mindfully take a breath when our thoughts and emotions are out of control is a core self-regulation strategy. Once you have read this book with your kids a few times, the next time they are upset, say — “Let’s find your magic breath!”

6. A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness – Written by Psychologist Frank J. Sileo, Ph.D., this book is a wonderful introduction to mindfulness for children. Children do tend to live in the moment — but like the rest of us, they spend much of there time racing from one activity to the next, never pausing to enjoy something. This book will help your child and your family find some quiet moments in the day — and with it some calm. Learning to pause is an essential component of self-regulation — and it is important to teach our children this skill at times when they are not upset, which is exactly what this book encourages children to do, to learn to pause just like they would learn to play an instrument or ride a bicycle.

7. The Lemonade Hurricane – A Story of Mindfulness and Meditation – This book takes mindfulness one step further, it shows how it can be a calming influence. From the synopsis: “Henry is a lot of fun when he’s not storming through the house, so Emma decides to teach him how to be still. By showing him how to sit, bow, and breathe, Emma is able to calm the hurricane within Henry.” This book is a good one to help teach kids a balance between go, go, go and stopping and resting themselves and their minds.

8. Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree – This is a brand new book that hasn’t been released yet at the time I am writing this post. I am excited about this book because mindfulness is a great tool for children with anxiety. In this book, Bea gets herself all worked up before the start of a birthday party, but after stepping outside in her backyard and breathing mindfully and doing visulations, she able to calm down and join the party. I love that Bea has a worry tree, research shows that being in nature helps calm the mind. This book will be a good tool for parents of children with worries.

9. I am Peace: A Book of MindfulnessThis is a sweet book that teaches children the steps of mindfulness and the beauty of living in the here and the now in a gentle story-book fashion. In the back, there is also a guided meditation for kids that is a nice before bed activity, especially for children with stress or worries. It is a good one to have on the bookshelf that you can pull out when your child has had a trying or stressful day,There are times when I worry about what might happen next and what happened before. The thoughts in my head are like rushing water and I feel like a boat with no anchor being carried away…I give myself a moment and take a breath. And then I tell myself: It’s alright.”

10. Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems –  This is also a wonderful book to read when you and your child need calmness and relaxation, “What am I thinking? What comes and goes in my mind? I watch my thoughts. They swim by like little fish. They shine blue, green, red, yellow… there is a quiet place inside my head like an egg hidden in a nest. A place I go when the world is loud.” This book teaches the steps of mindfulness, breathing, being aware of thoughts and letting them go by, refocusing on the breath, and finding your own quiet place. This is true for emotions as well. 

11. A Quiet PlaceThis book is a relaxing one to read at the end of a hectic day. It is about finding your own quiet place — by the shore, by the pond, on a mountain, in the snow — or maybe the one just inside of you. This is a great book for showing your child that everyone has a quiet place inside themselves. Teaching your child that they can go to that quiet place is a giving them the gift of peacefulness.

12. My Incredible Talking Body – This book teaches children the first step in being mindful — awareness of the body and how emotions feel physically. “It tells me I am sleepy when my eyes are droopy and I just can’t stop yawning.” The book goes through the feelings of hungry, thirsty, sleepy, angry, sad, scared and calm. “When I am calm, my muscles feel relaxed like my arms and legs have turned into spaghetti noodles. My breathing is slow and deep like when I blow up a balloon.” The book also discussed how to return to calm after feeling anger or sadness and give strategies for calming down. Learning to listen to the body is a good first step in mindful awareness and emotion regulation.

13. Mind Bubbles: Exploring Mindfulness With Kids – I love books that give kids a concrete example of how to deal with abstract thoughts and feelings. This book teaches children how to focus on their breath while letting thoughts, feelings, and worries pop away like bubbles. “Mind bubbles may float around for awhile, but the interesting thing is that they always pop. Thoughts and feelings change and new ones come along.” This is a great book to introduce mindfulness meditation to children.

14. Mindfulness for Vikings: Inspirational Quotes and Pictures Encouraging a Happy Stress-Free Life for Adults and Kids – This one is a little different, but I love it. These are more things and inspirational sayings to think about during mindful moments. It encourages living in the moment — being mindful and appreciating the little things. Being able to be quiet enough to appreciate those things. “Even the little moments are big moments.” 

15. The Mindfulness for Kids Mandala Drawing Book Research shows that coloring mandalas induces a meditative state and decreases anxiety in college-aged students. This coloring book for kids introduces mandalas and the concept of mindfulness while coloring or drawing. Then the book goes through different types of patterns and provides grids so children can draw their own mandalas. Using art as a self-regulation tool is a great life-skill. I would recommend this book for kids 8 through 12.

Best Picture Books About Self-Control for Kids (or lack of self-control!)

These last books are all stories — pictures books with stories that illustrate how regulation happens (or doesn’t happen) in many kinds of situations. Your child will be able to identify with the characters as they overcome frustration, problem-solve, resist impulses, and wait for something worth waiting for.

16. Nanette’s Baguette – This Mo Willem’s rhyming book follows Nanette on her first time being responsible to “get the baguette.” But will she be able to resist the baguette? It is warm, it smells wonderful!!! You will love the twist ending of this book that shows that sometimes it’s okay to give in to our impulses and enjoy. Learning to regulate is not just about suppressing, but also about being able to enhance emotions, savor life — to know when to be able to let go a little.

17. Waiting is Not Easy – Another great Mo Willems books, this time with Piggy and Gerald. Waiting is not easy and your kids will be able to relate to Gerald’s discomfort while waiting. But, they will also learn that some things are worth waiting for…

18. The Most Magnificent Thing – Oh to know what you want to do, to be able to picture it exactly how you want it in your head and not be able to build it. This is a feeling our kids are all too familiar with as they are gaining coordination and skills. The main character in this book gets frustrated when her invention doesn’t come out– she fumes!! But then, she goes for a walk. She begins to feel different, she calms down. Then she is able to think more clearly again. Will she be able to go back and look at her work with fresh eyes?

What a life-skill! To be able to take a break and go back and try again. This book teaches kids that things don’t always happen on the first try, that you can get emotional, but you can regulate that, take a break and persevere.

19. Argle Fox – This is a great book about overcoming the big feelings of frustration and trying again and again. The story is captivating to young children, written with a sense of anticipation. The story highlights big emotions, critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance. Kids will be able to relate very well to Argyle fox’s frustration and rejoice when he comes up with a solution at last.

20. Remy the Rhino Learns Patience – Remy is a grumpy Rhino and is irritated by all of the other animals. He angrily tries to get his own way and one day makes a mistake. Will anyone come to his aid? Children will see that anger makes Remy’s predicament worse and if he can relax, he might discover a way to solve his problem and make a friend!

21. The Very Impatient Caterpillar – The librarian read this to my son’s 1st class on a recent field trip and the kids loved it! This is a highly relatable story about a caterpillar who cannot wait to become a butterfly. Literally, CAN NOT WAIT. Perfect to read before any situation in which your child will have to learn that good things come to those who wait.

6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today – Pocket Mindfulness

In this busy world of ours, the mind is constantly pulled from pillar to post, scattering our thoughts and emotions and leaving us feeling stressed, highly-strung and at times quite anxious.

Most of us don’t have five minutes to sit down and relax, let alone 30 minutes or more for a meditation session.

But it is essential for our wellbeing to take a few minutes each day to cultivate mental spaciousness and achieve a positive mind-body balance.

So if you are a busy bee like me, you can use these simple mindfulness exercises to empty your mind and find some much-needed calm amidst the madness of your hectic day.

I’m going to cover 6 exercises that take very little effort and can be done pretty much anywhere at anytime:

Let’s get started…

6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today

1.Mindful Breathing

This exercise can be done standing up or sitting down, and pretty much anywhere at any time. If you can sit down in the meditation (lotus) position, that’s great, if not, no worries.

Either way, all you have to do is be still and focus on your breath for just one minute.

If you are someone who thought they’d never be able to meditate, guess what? You are half way there already!

If you enjoyed one minute of this mind-calming exercise, why not try two or three?

2. Mindful Observation

This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful because it helps you notice and appreciate seemingly simple elements of your environment in a more profound way.

The exercise is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, something that is easily missed when we are rushing around in the car or hopping on and off trains on the way to work.

3. Mindful Awareness

This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks and the results they achieve.

Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted, like opening a door, for example.

At the very moment you touch the doorknob to open the door, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel in that moment and where the door will lead you.

Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that facilitates your understanding of how to use the computer.

These ‘touch point’ cues don’t have to be physical ones.

For example: Each time you think a negative thought, you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity.

Or, perhaps each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how lucky you are to have good food to eat and share with your family and friends.

Choose a touch point that resonates with you today and, instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing and the blessings these actions brings to your life.

4. Mindful Listening

This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way, and indeed to train your mind to be less swayed by the influence of past experiences and preconception.

So much of what we “feel” is influenced by past experience. For example, we may dislike a song because it reminds of us of a breakup or another period of life when things felt negative.

So the idea of this exercise is to listen to some music from a neutral standpoint, with a present awareness that is unhindered by preconception.

Select a piece of music you have never heard before. You may have something in your own collection that you have never listened to, or you might choose to turn the radio dial until something catches your ear.

The idea is to listen intently, to become fully entwined with the composition without preconception or judgment of the genre, artist, lyrics or instrumentation. Don’t think, hear.

5. Mindful Immersion

The intention of this exercise is to cultivate contentment in the moment and escape the persistent striving we find ourselves caught up in on a daily basis.

Rather than anxiously wanting to finish an everyday routine task in order to get on with doing something else, take that regular routine and fully experience it like never before.

For example: if you are cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of the activity.

Rather than treat this as a regular chore, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your actions:

Feel and become the motion when sweeping the floor, sense the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, develop a more efficient way of wiping the windows clean.

The idea is to get creative and discover new experiences within a familiar routine task.

Instead of labouring through and constantly thinking about finishing the task, become aware of every step and fully immerse yourself in the progress. Take the activity beyond a routine by aligning yourself with it physically, mentally and spiritually.

Who knows, you might even enjoy the cleaning for once!

6. Mindful Appreciation

In this last exercise, all you have to do is notice 5 things in your day that usually go unappreciated.

These things can be objects or people; it’s up to you. Use a notepad to check off 5 by the end of the day.

The point of this exercise is to simply give thanks and appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life, the things that support our existence but rarely get a second thought amidst our desire for bigger and better things.

For example: electricity powers your kettle, the postman delivers your mail, your clothes provide you warmth, your nose lets you smell the flowers in the park, your ears let you hear the birds in the tree by the bus stop, but…

Once you have identified your 5 things, make it your duty to find out everything you can about their creation and purpose to truly appreciate the way in which they support your life.

Would you like to download these exercises in PDF format?

Why Mindfulness Exercises?

The cultivation of moment-by-moment awareness of our surrounding environment is a practice that helps us better cope with the difficult thoughts and feelings that cause us stress and anxiety in everyday life.

With regular practice of mindfulness exercises, rather than being led on auto-pilot by emotions influenced by negative past experiences and fears of future occurrences, we harness the ability to root the mind in the present moment and deal with life’s challenges in a clear-minded, calm, assertive way.

In turn, we develop a fully conscious mind-set that frees us from the imprisonment of unhelpful, self-limiting thought patterns, and enables us to be fully present to focus on positive emotions that increase compassion and understanding in ourselves and others.

For more advanced mindfulness exercises, and two 30-minute meditation music mp3s to accompany your practice, you can download my book of the same name.

‘It stops the scary stuff’: pupils thrive with mindfulness lessons | Life and style | The Guardian

English Martyrs Catholic primary school in Litherland is a stone’s throw from one of Merseyside’s most notorious areas for gangs and gun crime, and most children at the school have been affected by the violence.

It is an unlikely place, perhaps, to find a thriving mindfulness teaching programme. But English Martyrs is one of a growing number of schools in deprived parts of Britain that are embracing meditation techniques to help vulnerable children cope.

“We see a lot of pressure put on children’s shoulders due to family circumstances, parents losing their jobs, financial stress, anxiety about crime, fear about homelessness,” said headteacher Lewis Dinsdale.

“Children internalise things, but what mindfulness has done is bring a number of quieter children to the surface – children who we’d never have known were going through such anxiety and stress at home. They haven’t wanted to speak to their mum and dad about it but it’s coming out in these sessions.”

One nine-year-old-boy confided that “petal breathing” – where the children open and close their fingers in time with their breath – helped him to forget about “all the scary stuff”.

“If I concentrate on my breathing, the worrying thoughts just go ‘pop’ and disappear,” he said.

Nationally, the Mindfulness in Schools Project said it had trained nearly 2,000 teachers this year, a jump of 40% on last year, and much of that growth came from schools with higher than average proportions of vulnerable children.

But for cash-strapped schools, it’s not cheap. Dinsdale said that he had to find £2,500 to train one member of staff. “As a head teacher you’re always looking at the bottom line, and that’s a lot of money,” he said.

The investment had paid off, he said, not just helping with children’s mental health but improving their academic performance too. He described how some children used to have panic attacks when sitting Sats. One girl had been physically sick on her test paper. He was critical of Ofsted inspectors for not being more tuned in to the benefits of mindfulness. “It’s frustrating because it isn’t a box that they have to tick,” he said.

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Dinsdale has been so convinced by the positive effect that the school has now introduced mindfulness workshops for parents too. “Some mums and dads are at breaking point and they’re taking it out on the children. They don’t know who to turn to,” he said.

The Raise the Youth Foundation in Bolton, a non-profit independent school, teaches children who have been excluded from the education system. Many of them have suffered abuse, lived on the streets and been in and out of foster care. “We are their last hope,” said Jason Steele, the school’s founder.

He said that the school brought mindfulness into the curriculum two years ago, though at the time he was far from convinced that it would have any significant effect. “I thought they’d be playing up,” he said. “But what’s surprised me is that all of them have taken something from it, some more than others.”

Steele said children at his school were probably among the most difficult young people to care for because they were used to pushing people away. Mindfulness, though, had built their self-esteem and was now a hugely positive force in their lives.

“It’s helping them to engage with the present rather than worrying about the future or blaming the past for everything,” he said.

Many of the teenagers have missed years of schooling; most have never sat exams before. He said that before mindfulness became part of the curriculum, they would do everything they could to avoid taking tests.

“They would just run around school slapping people, calling them Muppets, ripping paper, just really low-level behaviour,” he said.

That type of disruptive behaviour has not gone away, but it has tailed off. It happened because they were scared of failure, he said. That had been their life experience. “But showing them how to do meditation is helping them learn about relaxation, it’s given them a confidence they never had.”

Students are Learning How to Handle Stress with Mindfulness and the Future is Looking Bright

Remember being sent to detention? Perhaps you felt humiliated, thought it was unfair or laughed it off. But did you ever really think about what you did?

A growing number of schools are flipping the script on traditional detention and sending kids to meditate instead. The practice is famously carried out at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore where misbehaving children are taught breathing and centering exercises by faculty.

Rather than writing out what they did wrong 100 times as in the old days, students spend time letting go of their frustration surrounded by purple plush pillows, lamps and decorations before talking things out.

And mindfulness isn’t just used as an alternative form of punishment at Robert W. Coleman.  Students there start their day with a “mindful moment” – a 15-minute blend of yoga and meditation, CBS News reports.

Principal Carillian Thompson boasted in the 2016 report that mindfulness has made a “huge difference” and “they’ve had zero suspensions.”

There are numbers to back up Thompson’s praise of her school’s mindfulness program. A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that mindfulness meditation “can help ease psychological stressors such as anxiety, depression and pain,” CNN reports.

Another study, this one performed at Harvard, found meditation improves connections to the brain for those who suffer from chronic stress. As for the impact of mindfulness on students, a 2013 study cited in a Berkley report found meditation and yoga helped reduce hyperactive behavior, ADHD symptoms, depression, and stress.

Despite pushback from Christian groups saying schools are “indoctrinating” students with “Buddhist-based mindfulness,” meditation has spread beyond the U.S. to the United Kingdom where the government recently carried out mindfulness testing at 370 schools in honor of Children’s Mental Health Week.

There, students engaged in a series of trials to test how different mindfulness exercises and approaches can help support young people’s mental health.

“I want to see all children and young people have the opportunity to flourish – and protecting their mental health is vital to this,” said British Health Secretary Matt Hancock in a statement.

“I’m incredibly excited by this initiative, which will help young people better understand their mental health and identify when they need to ask for help sooner.”

Imran Hussain, the director of policy and campaigns for Action for Children, a U.K. children’s advocacy charity, applauded her government’s efforts.

“Every day our frontline services see children and teenagers struggling to get to grips with how they fit into the increasingly complex modern world – contending with things like intense pressure at school, bullying or problems at home, all while being bombarded by social media,” she said in the government statement.

“Crucially, services like these can lessen the anxiety, pain and anguish that some teens go through, but also reduce their need for intensive support further down the line.”

The future poses seemingly insurmountable problems, but if future generations can learn to handle their issues with calmness, peace of mind and mindfulness, the world will be in good hands.

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4 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness in the Classroom – Kristen Palana

This is a guest post by Johanna Cider, an Educator and Freelance Writer from Wellington, New Zealand.

 classroom
Image Source: Unsplash

For teachers as much as for students, the classroom can be a stressful place. It’s supposed to be a hive of learning, and yet distractions can abound, and interruptions can totally overwhelm our individual sense of calm. So just how can you make sure that you and the rest of the class remain mindful and conscious amidst the fray?

If you’re struggling to maintain emotional equilibrium when students misbehave or when your own preoccupations threaten to get in the way, then read up. These simple tips for practicing mindfulness in the classroom should equip you with precisely the coping mechanisms you need to regain a sense of calm.

 

A break is called a break for a reason! And especially since they come so far and few between for us educators, it’s vital that when the bell rings for morning tea or lunch, we really commit that 15 or 30 minutes to recharging our batteries proper. Take time to head outside or find a comfy spot indoors if the weather is looking wild – that means putting phones and other devices away, steering clear of any other type of screen, and dedicating some you-time to just resting.

Don’t think about how little time you have to go when you begin a break, because that mindset will just make the minutes tick over faster. Instead, start your break in leisurely style, and focus on planting your feet firmly within each minute that you’ve got to work with. You’d be amazed how much you can slow down time simply by putting your mind to it.

feet
Image Source: Pixabay

 

Our five senses are true gifts, and each one is designed to connect us more strongly to the outside world. Even during class time, you can train your brain to focus in on these sensory experiences during a lull in activity or a pause in discussion, so that you don’t just float through your teaching hours feeling disembodied.

The sensations you might focus on can be as simple as the feeling of cold water running down your throat, or the glorious sensation of soft grass under your toes as you supervise a sports game on the school field (the literal meaning of “feeling the ground beneath your feet”!).

 

Both for students and their teachers, patience is a true virtue in the classroom setting. often, it’s often the only thing standing between self-management and the odd outburst! Patience means stopping and thinking so that you can truly absorb the situation or interaction at hand, and so make a reasoned decision about how to proceed. Patience allows teachers to evaluate issues calmly and with attention only to the immediately-relevant circumstances (rather than to the worst-case scenarios we tend to foresee in our heads).

Imagine yourself as a tree with thick roots, standing immovable while a storm assaults you. What do you do? You stay standing – and gather all your intellectual resources to respond like the master of mindfulness that you are.

tea
Image Source: Unsplash

 

Spend a few minutes per day for quiet time – and if possible, combine that silent time with gratitude practice. You might keep a thankfulness journal and write down all the things that you’re grateful for, or perhaps you just want to keep track of how you’re feeling each day. Whatever the mechanism, these moments of reflection encourage us to press “pause” on our lives and capture a snapshot of ourselves at a particular period in time.

You might even incorporate reflection into your lesson structure. By inaugurating the habit of a ‘mindfulness moment’ at the start of every class – in which everyone spends five minutes writing down what they’re thankful for – you’ll be bringing mindfulness into everyone’s orbit.

Johanna is a voracious reader who especially enjoys mystery and crime fiction. She also likes writing down her thoughts in her diary. To know more about Johanna, you can easily connect with her on Tumblr.

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Motivational Blog On Life, Mindfulness & Self Improvement | Jack Canfield

How Small Steps Make Big ChangesThere’s a well-known Chinese proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Yet far too many people never even get started on that journey and make big changes to reach their destination. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  – Chinese Proverb They are afraid to

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4 Tips to Help You Accept & Embrace ChangeWhether you perceive it or not, everything is constantly changing – the environment, the weather, the economy, technology, society, culture, your friends and family, your body, everything. And the better able you are to embrace change in what is happening in your world, the easier it will be for you to live your best life.

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Don't Ignore Signs From the UniverseThe universe works in mysterious ways. It is constantly working to make available to you the tools, the resources, the people, and the lessons you need to become the person you were meant to be which is why it’s so important to pay attention to signs from the universe. But, the universe doesn’t always make

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5 Tips to Stop Negative Self-Talk Once & For AllResearchers estimate that we think about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day – and that about 80% of those thoughts are negative. That is a crazy amount of negative self-talk! What is Negative Self-Talk? We spend so much time telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or thin enough. We tell

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The Power of Sharing Your Goals With OthersAn individual’s goals are very personal. In fact, a well thought out goal hints at the person’s vulnerability and deepest desires. Not only do goals reflect a person’s desires, goals also have the incredible power to change a person’s life – if executed well of course. However, due to the nature of such goals, people

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9 Stress Relief Tips For Busy LifestylesRunning a business with events, speaking engagements, and meetings one right after the other on top of working with my team, I know first-hand how stressful and exhausting having a busy lifestyle can be. But I also know first-hand how to make sure you don’t burn out or find yourself helpless, irritable, and unhappy. Here

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Why Mindfulness And Trauma-Informed Teaching Don’t Always Go Together

Mindfulness is a fast growing trend both in the world generally and in schools. Teachers are turning to the practice as a simple way to restore calm to the classroom, help students find some quiet space, and build self-regulation skills. Some teachers say their personal mindfulness practice has helped them respond more calmly to students and helps them keep perspective. But it’s also important to realize that some of the ways mindfulness is practiced — sitting still, eyes closed, in silence — can also be triggers for students who have experienced trauma.

“This isn’t about calming down,” said Sam Himelstein, a clinical psychologist, trainer and author who has spent most of his career working with incarcerated youth. “Calming down is great and it is a skill that youth can get better at. But if we’re talking about mindfulness, at its core, we are just talking about being present with whatever it is.”

Himelstein has worked with teachers who get upset when students don’t want to engage in mindfulness a certain way — perhaps they don’t want to close their eyes or won’t sit the recommended way. But none of those things are truly about mindfulness, Himelstein said. Forcing students to engage with the practice in prescribed ways may do more harm than good, especially if the student has experienced trauma.

“You never want to force people to close their eyes,” he said. That alone can cause trauma for some kids. “The goal is not to turn people into meditation monks. It’s just about learning to turn inwards and practice self-awareness.”

Himelstein has a lot of empathy for the young people he works with because he was an angry kid. He said got into trouble in his early teenage years for drugs, and was sent to juvenile hall seven times. He also spent a lot of time in group homes once released, and it was there that a skilled mentor put him in a leadership position and sparked a desire in Himelstein to do counseling.

Himelstein was lucky that he got into trouble during middle school and was able to get back on track for high school. He was also lucky to be born into an affluent, white, two-parent home in Berkeley, California. His time in juvenile hall showed him what other kids his age were up against.

“A lot of the kids I work with it’s a real uphill battle when they come into the system at [ages] 15 to 16 because they just have so many high school credits to catch up on that it becomes overwhelming,” Himelstein said. “It’s so easy for them to get in the mindset that ‘school isn’t for me’ and turn that into a core belief.”

When Himelstein explains mindfulness to young people he likes to use a metaphor coined by Larry Rosenberg the dog-mind versus the lion-mind. If a human waves a bone in front of a dog, the dog will track that bone and chase it when it’s thrown. But wave a bone in front of a lion’s face and that lion might eat the human behind the bone.

“The dog can’t see beyond the bone. If I control the bone, I control the dog’s reality,” Himelstein said. But the lion sees a broader picture. He sees the human behind the bone. “That ability to see the larger picture gives the lion more autonomy, more choices.”

Himelstein then directs students to think of the bone as anger or anxiety. Reacting with the mind of a lion allows a person to say, “I’m angry right now,” and that little bit of metacognitive space between the person and the thought allows them to choose how to respond.

“It’s much easier said than done, but that’s what mindfulness is,” Himelstein said. “It’s noticing what’s happening in the present moment with a non-responsive mind.” When he’s presenting to youths, he asks them: Who’s the king of the jungle? The lion. And who doesn’t want to be the king of their inner jungle?

Himelstein has found that teens gravitate to this metaphor because it makes the concept less abstract. They can see how mindfulness will be useful to them and how it could give them an edge. Additionally, the metaphor becomes a language thread Himelstein can return to over and over again. “Lion-mind” is a shorthand for that ability to choose a reaction.

TRAUMA SENSITIVE MINDFULNESS

“A trauma-informed lens is, ‘this behavior may be a result of some sort of trauma.’ Or even better, ‘this may be a way for them to protect themselves,’ ” Himelstein said. The are some common issues he sees when trauma interacts with mindfulness.

  • Students don’t take the activity seriously
  • Students are triggered by silence because it feels like a storm is brewing, so they don’t want to be quiet
  • Students feel too many requests are made of them without the requisite trust being built up
  • Students exhibit avoidance behavior

Himelstein says building an authentic relationship is key to accessing the trust required to make mindfulness effective. For some kids, chaos is part of trauma so when adults are unpredictable they can’t be trusted. That’s why being a “predictable adult” is a good way to be authentic with kids.

Himelstein also offers these guidelines for teachers using mindfulness:

  • Don’t force it
  • Don’t focus on the logistics like sitting with eyes closed
  • Somatic awareness, like counting breaths, could be a good place to start. “There’s different types of awareness. Sometimes we’re really aware of what’s going on in the mind and sometimes we’re more aware of what’s going on in the body,” Himelstein said.
  • Think about the child’s window of tolerance and whether he is already triggered or not. “It’s good to strike when the iron is cold in a lot of these cases,” Himelstein said.
  • Build relationships

When Himelstein works with teachers, he’s conscientious of how different the classroom setting is from a therapeutic one. While teachers aren’t trained therapists, students gravitate towards a trusted teacher and want to share with them. On top of that, teachers are keenly aware of their duty to cover required content.

“They do have the hardest job out of all the direct service folks because they have all this stuff the’ve got to get through,” Himelstein said.

He likes to affirm with teachers right off-the-bat that the public school setting with 30-40 kids in a classroom is already not trauma-informed. It’s a very difficult context in which to build relationships, and the architecture, policies and procedures that can make schools feel institutional only make it harder. That’s why often Himelstein sees mindfulness first-and-foremost as a self-care technique for teachers. If teachers can successfully use their mindfulness practice to create metacognitive distance, they can take their ego out of interactions with kids.

“Classroom management skills that are based in trauma informed principles, which means learning how to redirect, learning how to confront people with a non-aggressive pose, not taking it personally, all of that overlaps to help form a relationship,” Himelstein said.

If teachers can see the trauma-informed approach as a way to better build relationships, he thinks it may feel less daunting. Once those relationships are formed and students trust their teachers, it’s more likely that mindfulness will be an effective tool for them.

Many teachers already see relationship building as a core part of their effectiveness, but one practice Himelstein recommends may be less intuitive in the rush to deliver information to students: active listening. “That’s a super simple concept, but it goes a long way, especially in an educational setting because kids are used to not just being presented to, but talked down to,” Himelstein said.

SELF CARE

Cultivating a trauma-informed classroom is much harder when educators themselves are burnt out. Building relationships, not reacting defensively to student behavior and taking time to listen to students can feel nearly impossible if the adult is barely making it through the day. Classrooms can be stressful places for teachers and even someone who has been practicing mindfulness for a long time may have difficulty calling upon that knowledge when triggered — just like kids.

That’s why a core part of a trauma-informed classroom is a healthy teacher. There are several categories of self-care, according to Himelstein:

  1. Regular cultivation of relaxation response (3Rs): things like watching TV, going into nature, getting a massage.
  2. Effortful training: These are things like more sustained meditation or exercise where the payoff comes over a longer time period.
  3. Creativity: something that gives purpose and adds vibrancy to life. Writing, reading, painting or other passions are examples.
  4. Advocacy: everything from learning to say “No” (set boundaries), to working at a higher level to impact policy or structural change.

Ultimately, Himelstein wants teachers to be aware of how students who have experienced trauma might be experiencing mindfulness in the classroom so they can respond in more empathetic ways. And, recognizing that sometimes teaching is traumatic and the practice may be more for the adults than the kids.

“You’re casting a wide net,” Himelstein said. “This is how it should be anyway. This is called trauma informed care because it’s often not done this way and when it’s not done it triggers people more. This should just be what engaged teaching is called.”

Louise Smith: After mindfulness freed her from antidepressants – meet the woman taking it into schools

“But something really stuck, because when I left the surgery I Googled mindfulness – at that time it wasn’t really talked about. There was all this stuff about how mindfulness is better for avoiding relapse, which is what I was struggling with, and for relieving insomnia which really sold it to me.”

That was five years ago and today Mrs Smith, 42, is now free of antidepressants and taking mindfulness training to nursery and primary schools around Scotland in an effort to improve youngsters’ concentration, resilience and overall mental health.

It is a long way from where she was 18 years ago when she found herself in a “toxic relationship” and battling depression and anxiety following the birth of her eldest son.

She finally left the relationship shortly before the birth of her second son, now 15, but spent the next six years hiding her illness and becoming increasingly unwell.

“I just survived day to day, very much on automatic pilot,” says Mrs Smith. “To look at me I would have seemed very okay on the outside – I had a good job, my own house, two beautiful boys.

“I was a runner, I looked after myself, but I was really very ill. I hid it from my family, my friends, because to admit to those feelings would have felt like failure and I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

“Every night after the kids went to bed I fell apart, but every morning it was a case of putting on the mask again, getting up, getting on with it and pretending really.”

Eventually Mrs Smith sought help from her GP who prescribed antidepressants.

“I remember the first time I went on them actually feeling, after a couple of weeks, for the first time in a long time, like myself again,” she says. “The noise in my head had quietened down and I still remember the distinct moment thinking ‘oh my God, I kind of feel happy’.”

Over the next three years, as her health improved, Mrs Smith periodically tried to stop taking citalopram but became frustrated when her symptoms returned.

“I’d do exactly what they said – come off them extremely gently. But once I was off them or just before, I would relapse. It just became this vicious cycle that plagued me for many years and I would feel so disappointed in myself every single time that I had to go back on them.”

In 2013, her GP suggested trying mindfulness – essentially meditation, without the religious connotations.

After overcoming her initial anger and hostility to the idea, Mrs Smith signed up to a course in Edinburgh and began practising the breathing and relaxation techniques at home.

“I hated it to begin with. Just sitting still for 20 minutes, I used to think ‘what is this hippy-dippy nonsense? – what a waste of time’. The way I used to always deal with things was to obsessively clean or run.

“I’d say to myself ‘if I can run for 10 miles today I might sleep tonight, or I might feel less anxious’. But I was running big miles and not feeling or sleeping any better.

“At around four or five weeks I had breakthrough. My husband noticed the difference before me. My sleeping had improved, I wasn’t just turning to drink, I was less reactive.

“This time when I came off the antidepressants it was a different.”

Although she feared another relapse, Mrs Smith found that as long as she continued to use the mindfulness techniques daily she was able to keep her symptoms at bay.

“I started to realise ‘this is like medication, if I don’t use it all the time I won’t get the benefit’. It’s not a case of ‘I’m better now, I don’t need it’. Even now I still have anxious days but rather than starting to obsessively clean or run I’ll do a longer practice and I can feel my nervous system calming down and my mind settling.”

Scientific evidence that mindfulness can help ‘rewire’ the brain is growing. At Harvard University, a five-year study – due to conclude in 2019 – has used brain scans to show how depressed patients undergoing mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (MBCT) experience lasting changes in the activity of their amygdala, the part of the brain which processes emotion.

And in 2016, an Oxford University of 424 patients with a history of depression – the largest analysis to date – found that (MBCT) was equally as effective at preventing an episode as commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs.

Mrs Smith, who is now married and also has a four-year-old daughter, has since founded Do-BeMindful, an initiative which trains teachers in mindfulness techniques which they can then pass on to pupils.

The programme has launched in 165 nursery and primary schools in Scotland to date, and is expected to extend into secondary schools next year.

“I’m so passionate about helping kids to develop these skills,” says Mrs Smith. “I wish I had had them earlier, because I genuinely think that a lot of the stuff that’s gone on wouldn’t have happened.”

LOUISE Smith had been trying to come off antidepressants for years, without success, when her GP asked if she had considered trying mindfulness training.

“I remember feeling enraged,” says Mrs Smith, a businesswoman and mother-of-three from Burntisland in Fife. “He said ‘you pay attention to your breath and thoughts’. I remember thinking ‘you p***k, how dare you?’.