Mindfulness – Classroom Study Shows Remarkable Results for Kids, Teens and Teachers

Mindfulness - A Recent Classroom Study Shows Remarkable Results for Kids, Teens and Teachers

Like physical health, mental health exists on a spectrum. We will all slide along that spectrum to varying degrees from time to time, and kids and teens are just as vulnerable to the dips. Increasingly (pleasingly!), research is focusing on the positive ways we can strengthen our mental health. In study after study, mindfulness meditation keeps coming up as a powerful way to do this.

What’s so great about mindfulness?

Mindfulness changes the structure and function of the brain in positive ways. Research has unlocked some of its wonders, but there will be more to come. The many positive benefits of mindfulness (and there are many!) include decreased anxiety, preservation of the brain’s gray matter (the tissue that contains the neurons), reduced depression and stress, and improved sleep quality – just to name a few.

We know that mindfulness does great things for adults, kids and adolescents, but until now, there has been little scientific proof about the benefits of incorporating a practice of mindfulness in the classroom.

Mindfulness and kids – An important study.

Recently, twelve Australian schools took part in a mindfulness meditation trial, to see if mindfulness could make a positive difference for students and teachers.

‘This is the largest study that we are aware of, worldwide, to evaluate the use of technology to support teachers to integrate mindfulness directly into their classrooms. The results of the study clearly demonstrate the capacity for our programs to positively impact on student and teacher wellbeing in a scalable and accessible way.’ – Dr Addie Wooten, Smiling Mind CEO.

The study involved seven inner metro schools, four outer metro schools, and one regional school. Altogether, 1853 students and 104 took part. Teachers were trained in mindfulness and the Smiling Mind program, and they participated in the five-week program. The students involved in the study were randomly assigned into two groups – one group did the mindfulness meditation and the other didn’t. Teachers and students were asked to use the program at least three times per week. 

At the end of the trial, teachers and students reported significant improvements across a number of key areas, including sleep quality, well-being, the ability to manage and accept emotions, concentration, and school behaviour. The students who reported the biggest improvements were the ones who had greater levels of emotional distress at the beginning of the program.

Importantly, there were also significant reductions in bullying and disruptive behavior in the classroom. 

Positive results from using mindfulness in the classroom have been found in a wide variety of government and non-government schools, in classes of all sizes and with kids of diverse backgrounds, locations and ages.

‘Mindfulness brings you to the present moment. It helps kids grapple with anxiety and emotions. Meditation regulates your emotions and provides a space between how you feel and how you react.’ Jane Martino, Smiling Mind founder.

But it doesn’t have to stay in the classroom.

Classroom, bedroom, home, car, outside – it doesn’t matter where mindfulness happens, just as long as it happens. The classroom is just one way to introduce a regular mindfulness practice to children but there are plenty. The important thing is to do something, and do it regularly. 

Mindfulness involves being completely present for a while. Think of it like ‘watching’ thoughts and experiences (what you see, feel, hear) come and go, rather than letting them stay for long enough to turn into a worry or a feeling that stays too long, and intrudes too much (and we all have them!). Smiling Mind has created a mindfulness app which has several different mindfulness programs. It was developed by psychologists for people of all ages and can be downloaded for free here. For other fun, practical ways to introduce kids to a regular mindfulness practice, see here.

[irp posts=”802″ name=”Mindfulness: What. How. And The Difference 5 Minutes a Day Will Make”]

9 Comments

Sushant

Mindfulness is just awesome, trying it for the past few days and now I’m able to focus more on my work.

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Katy

Who conducted the study? Are there other apps that are just as useful? This seems simply to be a press release from Smiling Minds.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Katy I understand your concerns. This is not a press release for Smiling Minds but a summary of the research paper. Funding and support for the research was provided by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Department of Education and Training. Prof Peter Hart from Deakin University and InsightSRC undertook all the data analysis.

There may certainly be other apps, but this research was specifically undertaken in classrooms with the Smiling Minds program. The important point is that mindfulness can make a difference for students and teachers in the classroom. There are plenty of ways to practice mindfulness, the Smiling Minds app is just one. Plenty of other research has backed up the results of this study that mindfulness can make a positive difference for kids and adults.

Reply
Jenn

Wow, that is remarkable! I am downloading the Smiling App now. 🙂

I have a question about my just turned three year old. About nine months ago we were awoken to the [very loud and unexpected] emergency alert system sounding in our apartment building during the middle of the night twice in one week. Since then my son has been very sensitive to all out of the ordinary/non everyday sounds (hammers tapping, people yelling, sounds he’s not familiar with, etc) and definitely seems to have anxiety about alarms and sirens going off. He often covers his ears and has a concerned look on his face when these sounds are present or he knows/thinks they may start.

I think (but am not sure) this is a normal reaction to the alarm going off awhile ago but the sound sensitivity seems to be getting stronger and is affecting him more and more. Is this a phobia? “Normal” toddler anxiety? Could it be SPD? (I ask that because he was a preemie and I have misophonia). I don’t know how much to acknowledge it. I definitely acknowledge when he doesn’t like a sound but i wonder if I’ve said too much. I try to be accepting of his fears and anxiety without coddling him. I guess my question is should i seek additional help for him? Just continue to acknowledge and accept his feelings? Any other advice?

I adore your website! Thank you for sharing all your wonderful insight and for all the support.

Reply
Debbie

Just downloaded the Smiling Mind app and cant wait to have my daughter do the same in the morning! Thank you so much for this post! Will see how this works for her (and me!)

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Sarah

Hello, I’m also curious if the study will be written up. It leads me to dreaming of a similar study in the US.

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Hazel

Hi Karen. I’m so excited to hear about this study. Do you know if Smiling Mind are going to be writing it up in a journal? It would be great if this could keep contributing to the small (but growing) body of research.

Reply

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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