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.

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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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