April 11, 2013

Helping Your Child Be More Mindful

In a recent blog on the Huffington Post, journalist and relatively recent meditation devotee Andy Fraser wrote about an interesting program that has found its way into some schools in the UK. Meant to help “direct [their] attention towards [their] experience as it unfolds from moment to moment,” the Mindfulness in Schools program .b (dot be) is a nine-session course for secondary school students that aims to teach them how to “Stop, Breath and Be!”

This program, based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, has had great success thus far. Schools employing it have seen improvement in student behavior and test scores and there is even some anecdotal evidence of a reduction of violence and reactionary behavior in the out-of-school lives of students enrolled in .b. Even the House of Lords and the British parliament has taken notice and is tailoring some of the Mindfulness in Schools’ practices to help with their own particular stressors.


So how can we apply these lessons to our students and children? Richard Burnett, who with Chris Cullen started the program in the UK, says that the underlying purpose of Mindfulness in Schools is to show students “how to use the lens through which all the information they are taught is being processed – their mind, and their attention… We are teaching them how to train their attention.” The program advocates for being both physically and mentally prepared to tackle the tasks-at-hand. One example of this is the acronym “FOFBOC” (feet on floor, bum on chair) to describe the appropriate body position to focus on school work; another is encouraging students to take a deep breath and clear their minds before settling into their work. As simple as this seems, this focus and mindfulness before beginning a task can be of great help to students who struggle with getting down to work and beginning an assignment. By having in place a set protocol that signals that work time has begun and also helping students find a way to be as “in the moment” for this as they can be, we are providing a valuable tool to maximize the possibility of a productive and positive learning experience.

This approach of being present, aware and focused can also be extended to normally stressful circumstances such as tests and exams. By concentrating on where s/he is in the moment, being aware of how his/her body is reacting to stress or anxiety and having the means to acknowledge this, accept it and then employ methods to move past it, students are taking ownership of their academic experience. In a way, they are advocating for their best selves with themselves. The knowledge that they can control their stress and have the tools and methods to approach their work calmly and with focus is an empowering notion.

According to Boston Magazine, some local high schools, including Needham High, Newton South, Lexington High and Dana Hall, have in the recent past included in their curricula courses that are similar to the UK’s Mindfulness in School program. But even if your child’s school doesn’t have a formalized yoga or meditation course, you can still work with him/her to come up with a protocol for approaching his/her work time, reducing stress before and during test-taking and even for dealing with difficult social interactions. The key is for your child to come up with a personalized signal or ritual that separates and acknowledges that work time has begun, a means of relaxing him/herself when anxiety strikes, and a way of both recognizing and releasing stress when it occurs. Namaste.