Journey to Wellness: The mindful child: What is mindfulness?

Published 5:58 pm Friday, September 21, 2012

John Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts to help individuals with chronic health problems. The “mindfulness” revolution in America has been growing ever since.
An increasing number of studies show that mindfulness not only helps adults with health issues, but can help children as well. Practicing mindfulness can improve your child’s grades, increase focus, decrease stress and anxiety and create better impulse control.
So what is mindfulness?
There are many definitions of mindfulness. The founders of Mindful Schools ( have developed this definition: “Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It is the mental faculty of purposefully bringing awareness to one’s experience. Mindfulness can be applied to sensory experience, thoughts and emotions by using sustained attention and noticing our experience without reacting.”
Another way of putting it would be “simply paying attention to this moment.” Think of it as paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without making judgments. Students, as well as adults, are rarely in the present moment. They may be worrying about an upcoming test or a future social situation or ruminating over past events. In that state of mind, children often do not know what they are thinking or feeling, so you can imagine it would be difficult to take tests or deal with social issues.
The practice of mindfulness can also impact the child’s health by decreasing stress and increasing control of her life. Mindfulness practice, which is sitting and attending to one’s thought, is in itself a self-managing intervention. An anxious, depressed or angry adolescent who is able to use focused awareness on what is happening in that moment, may become aware of what triggers those feelings. This, in turn, can make possible more active problem-solving.
Mindfulness is often confused with meditation, yet the goals are very different. Mindfulness is based on meditation but may be practiced while one is driving, doing homework, walking, planning for the future or even eating. The idea is to practice being aware of what you are doing right now. Meditation on the other hand is a practice to quiet the mind, achieve a higher state of consciousness or to distance oneself from the present experience.
What does a mindful student look like? How would you recognize one? Many research papers have been written which will list specific behaviors of children who practice mindfulness. Susan Kaiser Greenland, the author of the “The Mindful Child,” states that her favorite description, offered by two middle school students, is: “After a session of mindful awareness, students gradually become more positive, less tired and their stresses begin to go away.”
In summary, teaching mindfulness can go a long way in helping students succeed in school and later in life. Of course, it would be ideal if their parents practiced mindful-awareness, too. This could be easily accomplished and the family could practice together on a daily or weekly basis.
In any case, let’s hope that parents will support their children to become successful students. They can do this by being sure their children are properly nourished, have sufficient rest and that they feel safe and loved.

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