While mindfulness meditation has exploded in popularity due to its laundry list of health benefits, exploration is continuously being done to prove its not just beneficial for adults. In recent years, mindfulness has become a tool used to assist children at home, in school, and when behavioral issues arise. It is being seen more and more in classrooms across the country as a way to help teachers control behavior and children focus on learning, and there’s science to back up its success.
Teaching mindfulness to children is a growing trend both in private practices as a type of therapy and in curriculums taught at both special education and general education schools. Any teacher can agree that young students can often be distracted, disruptive, or difficult to control in the classroom. Wynne Kinder is the lead instructor of a mindfulness program “Wellness Works in Schools,” just one of many emerging like it. Kinder guides a group meditation in the classroom that encourages children to pay attention to their breath, focus on how their body feels, and make connections to their external environment. The program teaches that being rooted in the present moment leads to success in school and improved mental, emotional, and social health.
This attention control that mindfulness teaches allows students to be focused on the present and pay attention without distractions. Breathing techniques enable children to return to a place where their mind is settled, called “deep quieting.” When they face anxiety, stress, or anger, they can return to this quiet place instead of acting out. This also creates a peaceful, calm learning environment where kids are able to recognize their own emotions and avoid conflicts before they begin. When students are relaxed and in the right mindset to learn, teachers can connect with them more effectively on an emotional and educational level. Meditation is proven to increase attention and improve concentration in children, as well as reduce hyperactive behaviors and anxiety. This also leads to higher overall test scores, as meditation decreases the stress of test taking and improves working memory.
Many schools are also shifting from using punishment to combat misbehavior to a more progressive form of behavior correction: meditation. A school in Baltimore has switched from detention to the “Mindful Moment Room,” turing disciplinary problems into teachable moments. Instead of being yelled at or forced to sit in silence, children are encouraged to talk about what happened and go through breathing and mediation practices to calm down and re-center themselves. The key here is to introduce meditation into a child’s daily curriculum, stopping much of this misbehavior from occurring in the first place. In California, one district extended its school day in high risk schools by 30 minutes to build in meditation classes. These schools reported better grades, higher attendance, less suspensions, and overall less aggressive children. Mindfulness meditation can be used as a preventive tool for misbehavior, as well as a corrective tool for when things don’t go as planned, which is often the case when working with young children.