Teaching Mindfulness Practices to Children and Teens
Mindfulness practices build a foundation for social-emotional learning, cultivate self-regulation skills, and enhance academic achievement. These empowering abilities are essential for creating a lifetime of health, well-being, and success. The earlier children begin to practice, the better. However, it is never too late to start. When children and teens practice these skills, they develop life-long tools.
Mindfulness practices are easily integrated into the K-12 classroom, child-care setting, and home environment. Most importantly, model what you teach. Your mindful presence is more important than any specific instructions you offer.
Transition times provide an opportunity to notice feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations as well as practice self-calming.
Routine procedures can be reminders to direct attention to the senses and the present moment. Notice the feel and sounds of water when washing hands; practice mindful walking in the hall; be aware of colors and textures when getting materials out; feel the heartbeat and sensation of breath directly before and after a physical activity.
Work periods with encouragement to slow down, reflect, and focus on one thing at a time, develop sustained attention.
Family meals without television or other electronic distractions allow people to be present, appreciate the food, and enjoy the company of each other.
Regular family and classroom meetings, where everyone practices listening deeply and speaking from the heart, cultivate compassion.
Challenging situations, such as anxiety about an upcoming test or a fight with a sibling or peer, are transformed by mindful attention and stress-reducing strategies.
Mindfulness programs in schools are becoming more and more widespread. The field is changing rapidly, with many new ideas coming to fruition. There is a recognized need in the academic community for high quality research on school-based mindfulness programs, with well-designed studies that follow-up across time.
A spate of new studies are beginning to be published. One of the largest studies to date took place in Oakland elementary schools that serve low-income, ethnic-minority children. The results of a Mindful Schools curriculum showed student behavior improved significantly in paying attention, self-regulation, classroom participation, and respect for others. Read more about this and other studies:
There are also many excellent peer-reviewed articles reporting benefits of mindfulness for children and youth:
- Calming Ourselves in Stressful Moments, Third Edition
- Brain Gym - Educational Kinesiology
- Learning to Breathe: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance
- Listening Mothers
- Mindful Schools Program
- Move with Me, Movement and Mindfulness Resources for Pre-K and Kindergarten
- PATHS Curriculum
- Yoga 4 Classrooms
- Child's Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed. Christopher Willard, 2010.
- Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens. Sheri Van Dijk, 2011.
- Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting. Myla Kabat-Zinn, Jon Kabat-Zinn, First Edition 1997; Revised Edition.
- The Mindful Child. Susan Kaiser Greenland, 2010.
- Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children. Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community, 2011.
- A Settled Mind, Stress Reduction for the Classroom and Beyond. Kimberly Post Rowe, 2007.
- Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children. Amy Saltzman, CD. 2007.
- The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness Skills to Help you Deal with Stress. Gina Biegel, 2009.
- The Whole-Brain Child. Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, 2011.
- Yoga for Children. Lisa Flynn, 2013.
Mindfulness Education – Pacific Northwest
• Center for Child and Family Well-Being, University of Washington
• Community of Mindful Parenting, Mercer Island, Washington
• Mind Explore for Kids, Mercer Island, Washington
"One of the primary ironies of modern education is that we ask students to 'pay attention' dozens of times a day, yet we never teach them how. The practice of mindfulness teaches students how to pay attention, and this way of paying attention enhances both academic and social-emotional learning."
— Amy Saltzman
Mindfulness: A Guide for Teachers,
PBS Teacher's Live Webinar, 2012
"The new field of teaching mindfulness in our nation's schools is a profoundly beneficial development for the education of children from grades K through 12.
A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness decreases stress, attention deficit issues, depression, anxiety, and hostility in children, while benefiting their health, well-being, social relations, and academic performance."
— Omega Institute for Holistic Studies