A recent meta-analysis of randomised control trials looked at the impact mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) had on young people. When compared to the control groups, young people that had practised mindfulness showed significant positive effects in terms of executive functioning, attention, depression, anxiety/stress and negative behaviours (Dunning et al., 2018).
Other studies show that regularly practising mindfulness can boost activity in the parts of the brain that process positive emotion (therefore making you feel happier) and even improve the functioning of your immune system (Davidson et al., 2003).
Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment, in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. It is typically cultivated through some simple meditation practices.
Practising mindfulness regularly has been shown to improve students’ ability to focus, to regulate their emotions, control their behaviour and improve their mental health.
The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, where you are not aware of what you’re doing as your mind is either dwelling in the past or fast-forwarding to the future (sometimes called ‘mind wandering’). Studies show that people spend almost half of their lives in a state of mind wandering and that we tend to be less happy and satisfied with our lives than when we are focused on the present moment (Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010).
In the accompanying resource, I give details of three different activities which cultivate mindfulness: a breathing meditation, a walking meditation and a mindful eating activity, with scripts and reflective questions for you to share with your students.
Regularly give your students opportunities to practise. You could start your day with a short breathing meditation, practise again just after lunch and then end your day with a meditation. Keep the practices short (one to two minutes) to begin with.
Providing specific times and places for students to practise mindfulness can be helpful, so you might like to set up a lunch-time mindfulness drop-in session. This can be a 15-minute slot where you guide them through a practice, or you could play one of the many mindfulness practices on YouTube (always check the guided meditations to make sure they’re age-appropriate).
An excellent book to support mindfulness practice is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. It comes with a CD with guided meditations. For younger children, the book Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their Parents) by Eline Snel is great and also comes with a CD with guided meditations.
Apps such as Headspace have guided meditations for children and some excellent short animations that help explain what mindfulness is and how to practise it.
Davidson, R. J., Kabat- Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K. and Sheridan, J. F. (2003) ‘Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation’, Psychosomatic Medicine, 65 (4), 564–70.
Dunning, D.l., Griffiths, K., Kuyken, W., Crane, C., Foulkes, L., Parker, J., Dalgleish, T. (2018) ‘The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized control trials’, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60 (3), 244–258.
Killingsworth, M. A. and Gilbert, D. T. (2010) ‘A wandering mind is an unhappy mind’, Science, 330 (6006) 932.
Adrian Bethune is author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness (Bloomsbury, 2018) and the founder of www.teachappy.co.uk @AdrianBethune.