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3 Mindfulness Acts For Smart, Happy Kids

As a psychotherapist, I’ve used guided imagery with kids for many years. Through the process of relaxation breathing and positive imagery, kids experience less anxiety and learn to regulate their emotions.

Sometimes I use a pre-written script (a relaxing story) that they choose. Other times they come to me with their own scripts. More often than not, they bring their scripts home to use at night before they fall asleep.

In time, they all learn to do this independently.

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You don’t have to be highly anxious or under significant stress to benefit from guided imagery. It helps center my own kids after a tiring day and brings them back to the present. It helps melt away hidden stress — the kind that often results in headaches or sore necks. It’s amazing that something as simple as breathing and positive imagery can change everything for the better.

Mindfulness programs are popping up in schools all over the country and for good reason. With the pushing down of academics, kids are under more stress in school than they once were. But it isn’t just difficult schoolwork that leads to stress and frustration. Many schools don’t have the time to implement social skills programs, and kids are left to cope with difficult emotions and social issues independently. That’s a tall order for elementary school children. They need guidance and support as they navigate tricky social situations.

Mindfulness programs address the academic, emotional and social needs of students. The MindUp program, founded by Goldie Hawn, has been proven to reduce stress, improve concentration and help students and teachers thrive in the classroom. Drawing on both mindfulness training and positive psychology, MindUp helps increase optimism and empathy while reducing bullying and aggression. Rest assured, educators, MindUp aligns with the Common Core State Standards and helps kids improve concentration for academic success.

While the research on mindfulness programs in schools is still emerging, there are clear benefits to practicing mindfulness. According to the Mayo Clinic, mindfulness meditation (focusing on breathing and letting negative emotions pass) can help with stress management, increase self-awareness, reduce negative emotions, help people focus on the present and learn to look at stressful situations through a different lens. In a nutshell, mindfulness practices can reduce stress and anxiety while increasing positive emotions.

Why wouldn’t we make this part of the curriculum in elementary school?

Regardless of whether schools implement the MindUp program, teachers can encourage mindfulness practices in their own classroom to help students thrive. These three steps are a good start:

1. Set up a relaxation corner

Kids experience shifting emotions throughout the day (don’t we all?), and this can result in increased overall stress. Unless we teach kids how to cope with their negative emotions, they are left to bottle them up inside. This is a concern because unresolved emotions often manifest in anxiety, depression and difficulty relating to peers and teachers.

Taking a quick break from academics to do a feelings check-in helps kids focus on their current state and consider options to restore a feeling of calmness.

A relaxation corner is a great way to teach kids to take a break when overwhelmed. There are many great options to make the relaxation corner feel safe and comfortable to kids. Headphones and an iPod can provide an escape from stress via relaxing music or a meditation app. Stress balls can give students a chance to work the stress out of their muscles. A beanbag chair and a book nook are other great tools for shifting away from anxious thoughts. Drawing and coloring is another outlet for stress and will help them center on themselves. Set a timer so kids use their relaxation time efficiently, and don’t use it as an excuse to avoid instruction time.

2. Try breathing exercises

Those guided imagery scripts that I use with clients and my own kids take approximately 5 to 7 minutes to complete. In less than 10 minutes, teachers can help kids regulate their breathing, relax their muscles and focus on the present.

A good rule to follow when teaching relaxation breathing to kids is to have them breathe in for a count of three, hold for three and release for three. Repeat three times before adding imagery or mindfulness meditation.

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3. Create a feelings check-in center

If kids are out of touch with their emotions, it’s often because they don’t have enough time to consider them. Taking a quick break from academics to do a feelings check-in helps kids focus on their current state and consider options to restore a feeling of calmness. Use a magnet board with faces of different feelings and encourage students to choose which one most accurately represents how they feel. Have them write it on the board and provide them with a list of strategies to combat each emotion. This exercise empowers kids as they learn to regulate their own emotions throughout the day.

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