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.

Reply
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.

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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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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