In recent years, a growing number of scientific studies have underlined the benefits of mindfulness exercises for students. Harvard University research scientists showed that practicing mindfulness for at least 8 weeks grew the volume of grey matter in the brain, according to the study published in «Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging».
By helping students increase their awareness of the here-and-now, we enable them to develop a set of tools that they can call upon to manage not only their emotions and relations with others, but also their learning journey.
La Côte International School in Aubonne (Switzerland) has been teaching Mindfulness to its primary school students since 2016 as part of their Personal and Social Health Education programme. The positive effects of the Mindfulness programme were evident: “I felt a bit stressed when our teacher told us we were going to do a test” observes Giacomo, a student in Year 6 “but then I closed my eyes and did some ‘Pause and Be’ exercises we had learnt and I felt more calm”.
“We acknowledge that children lead increasingly busy, stressful lives” says Alison Piguet, Head of Primary at La Côte International School “and we are working proactively to support them in their social, academic and emotional development. Studies reveal that students are more motivated to learn in a caring environment and, as a school, we are committed to offer an integrated approach to their social and emotional development.”
Following these positive results, the Mindfulness programme at La Côte International School Aubonne will be rolled out to secondary students starting from September 2017.
As Jenny Ebermann, Morges-based Mindfulness Teacher, Trainer and Coach at Brainbreak.ch, points out:
Mindfulness involves learning to direct our attention to our experience as it is unfolding, moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. It is a skill that can be learned by practices, akin to meditations, that focus on the immediate felt experience in the breath, body and mind.
Conclusions about the benefits of mindfulness within schools are based on solid evidence of the impact of mindfulness on adults, and a growing and promising evidence base relating to the impact on children and young people. As far as children and adolescents are concerned we identify the following “two wings” effects of mindfulness:
1) Attention (and related constructs such as concentration)
2) Self-Regulation (and related constructs such as impulse control and emotion regulation)
“On top of attention and self-regulation,” Jenny Ebermann continues “positive qualities that can develop in students as a result of mindfulness programmes in schools are: empathy (care for others), kindness, wellbeing, generosity and compassion.”
Case Study from Jenny Ebermann
There was an 8 year-old boy on one of my courses once who was hyperactive and could never sit still. He was always doing his own thing and I often wondered if he was following what was going on or not. When we started talking about dealing with our own emotions, I realized that he could not express what he felt but could draw very well what was going on inside him. I was happy that he’d found the best way for him to express his difficult emotions. Not only that, but at the end of the course he was the only one in class who was able to sit still for 5 minutes and concentrate on his breathing as he had been practicing this little exercise at home and found that it also helped him in class.
Mindfulness Tips for Parents of Children aged 3 to 12
SLOW THINGS DOWN. Being mindful is about being present with your heart. Have you ever heard the expression “put your heart and soul into it”? This summer put your heart and soul into being present when you play and engage with your children. Put down the phone, turn off the computer, stop “doing” and start “being”. Really enjoy one-to-one time with your children by being present. Notice how your full presence changes the atmosphere and changes how you experience your time with your children.
EAT YOUR MEALS IN A MINDFUL MANNER. Mindful eating is one of the exercises that ALL children enjoy. When you sit for dinner have each member of the family take a turn at activating one of the five senses before you begin to eat. Look at the food, the colours, the shapes, notice what is in the salad. Smell the food and notice how the body reacts to the smells. Notice the texture of the food as you place it on your tongue (try not to bite into it until you stop and notice the texture and how the body reacts to delicious food on your tongue). Finally bite into the food and notice the flavour. Notice the sound you hear as you eat slowly, really enjoying the flavour. You could eat one meal a week being present and mindful for 5 minutes at the beginning, or try this every day. You can also practice eating mindfully when you eat a summer treat, like ice-cream. Generally we rush into the food we love without even thinking about the pleasure this food brings to our mind and body. This is all about turning off the automatic pilot that is built into the brain and turning on the awareness.
BREATHING BREAK. If tensions run high over the holidays (which can happen often for many reasons!) practice the simple act of breathing to bring yourself, and everyone else involved, back to centre. Our breath is always with us and it is the easiest and quickest way to turn a highly charged situation back to equilibrium. Give yourself and your child the practice of closing the eyes and noticing how many breaths are taken in 1 to 2 minutes. This simple practice is proven to reduce the heart rate and calm the amygdala, the part of the brain that is working in overdrive when emotions run high. Follow this “breathing break” with an open, even-toned discussion about the situation. Our brain cannot listen to reason when the amygdala is fired up. I suggest you integrate the “Breathing Break” into your routine so that your children know how to do it, when you need it most.
Mindfulness Tips for Parents of Teens
You can practice all of the above tips with your teens as well. Generally speaking, in order to be mindful with your teenagers, you need to learn to be non-judgemental, present and grateful.
PLAN A PROJECT OR SET TIME ASIDE TO BE TOGETHER. Teens need space to be themselves and to grow into a new community outside of the family. I do find that during the summer teens have more time to be with the family and my advice is to take advantage of this. Taking a day outdoors to do an activity together, or a creative project. Whatever the activity, do it with presence and include your teenager in the planning of events. Leave your phones behind to be fully present or limit phone use to photographs only. When you are in the moment, be sure to express gratitude for the time you have together and for your surroundings. Being able to express gratitude for small and big moments in life is a great gift we can give our teens.
GIVE YOUR TEEN RESPONSIBILITY. This is a time in life when helping out around the house gives your child a sense of belonging to something more than themselves and a way to stay connected and grounded with the family, while building responsibility. How is this mindful? Ask them to do the work in a mindful manner. Focusing on the task will help build their concentration and pride in themselves. Again, keep electronic devices out of the picture. Teach them how to do the task well and let them know how important their contribution to the family is. This could be cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, taking care of outdoor plants and of course being responsible for the state of their own bedroom and laundry. Practice non-judgement which requires you to be mindful of the words you use when interacting with your child. Often we criticize efforts without noticing as we are not really listening to what and how we say things.
ENGAGE IN “SURFING THE WAVES” PRACTICE. If there are moments of negative thinking teach your teen to sit still and tune into their belly breathing with the eyes closed to help them tune into the internal world of the mind and body. Have them notice their breath as it rolls in and out of the lungs and belly like waves on a beach. Then have them tune into the thoughts that are at the surface. Let the thoughts come and go without engaging in them, practicing non-judgement, just observe them and pay attention to the breathing. Notice how the body feels when there is no engagement in the thought. Remind them to remember that thoughts are just thoughts: we do not have to believe everything we think.
Annette Ebbinghaus Founder of TrulyBalance www.trulybalance.com in Coppet, Switzerland.
Mindfulness teacher, Sophrologist, Reflexologist, Hypnosis Therapy, Reiki and Massage, Annette specializes in working with families and students to improve their resilience, confidence and capabilities in life.