When children misbehave are punished. It happens at home as well as at school. It always has been like that and always will be. However, if we want things to change, if we want a better society, maybe we should change our educational model.
This is exactly what has been proposed by the elementary school “Robert W. Coleman” in the United States, his teachers do not punish children, but offer them something totally different: meditation.
The school, which is located in Baltimore, has created a “Mindful” room where all children go, even those who had a disruptive behavior. Once there, rather than scold them, children are encouraged to breathe and meditate, to find calm, relax and reflect on what happened.
This project was created in collaboration with the “Holistic Life Foundation”, a foundation that spent over a decade providing holistic school programs for children. In fact, its director says that although it may seem impossible for children to sit and meditate in silence, they do it without any difficulty.
In addition, the school director says that since they launched this project, the students improved their behavior and was not necessary to resort to punishment or suspension.
The amazing benefits of mindfulness meditation for children
Mindfulness meditation has been around for thousands years, but only now the Western world is rediscovering its benefits. In fact, this technique has already been introduced in many psychological therapies and is slowly gaining ground in education.
It has been seen that this type of meditation improves attention, making it ideal for children with the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It also reduces stress, promotes empathy and enhances emotional self-control, so it is recommended for children suffering from oppositional defiant disorder or showing aggressive behavior.
This is because mindfulness meditation causes changes in the brain, especially in the regions associated with attention, processing of sensory information, thought and decision making.
In a study conducted by the University of Harvard it was seen that these areas of the cerebral cortex show a thickening when practicing mindfulness meditation, something we naturally get over the years. This means that some areas of the brain develop faster when you meditate, so this is a very powerful tool to stimulate the maturation of the brain in children.
In addition, a meta-analysis conducted by psychologists at the University of Chicago that included data from 270,034 children of 213 schools which applied mindfulness meditation programs, concluded that this technique not only improves social and emotional skills, but also academic performance, with an average of 11 points.
These results are not random. In fact, it has been shown that mindfulness meditation also increases the density of gray matter in the hippocampus, an area closely linked to memory and learning. It is therefore not surprising that children who learn to meditate also improve their learning.
Mindfulness Meditation: The antidote to stress of modern life
Mindfulness meditation is not simply a technique, doesn’t involve putting the kids to sit and meditate for a while and then forget about everything, involves assuming a different lifestyle and understand that children need to be happy and not to be the best, they need to play and have a more relaxed pace of life, rather than being under constant pressure to get good grades.
So, meditation can become a kind of antidote to many modern problems. Parents and teachers can use it to:
– Teach children to stay calm instead of losing control
– Teach children to be fully present, instead of be elsewhere with their mind
– Teach children to enjoy little things, instead of focusing exclusively on technology
– Teach children to be empathetic and compassionate, rather than distant and selfish
– Teach children to look within themselves, to be more aware and responsible, instead of letting them look constantly out looking for culprits
– Teach children to take a break when necessary, rather than push them to pursue “success”
Undoubtedly, it is a major change in the education of children, both at homes as at school.
3 exercises to develop a mindfulness attitude in children
To develop a mindfulness attitude in children is important that adults are patient and persistent. When it comes to small children, 4 or 5 years old, are enough as little as 5 minutes a day of “meditation.” When they are older you can devote 15 minutes a day to this activity.
It is always recommended to practice at the same time, at least three days a week and in a quiet place where’s not the risk of being interrupted. The idea is to propose activities in a fun and interesting perspective. It is also important to ask the child to say what were his/her feelings at the end. Obviously, it is essential not to judge him/her because all the results are good. In fact, it is normal that some day he/she will be more distracted than others, you should not criticize or reprimand him/her for this.
1. The “Astronauts” technique
The goal of this technique is that children learn to focus on the present moment with all their senses. To do that you tell him/her that you will play the astronauts visiting other planets. He/she will be the terrestrial and you the extraterrestrial.
So, give him/her a fruit and tell him/her to experiment it with all his/her senses, as if he/she had never seen it. It is important that he/she does not escape the details, because his/her intergalactic mission is to describe the result to an alien who doesn’t know what it is and wants to replicate it on his planet.
2. The “Weather forcast” technique
In this case, the goal is to increase the emotional awareness of the child, increasing the introspection. Just sit there and close your eyes, to find out how you are feeling in that moment. At first you can help by asking: “What’s the weather inside there?” If he/she feels relaxed and calm can say that the sun is shining, if he/she is concerned can say that there are clouds and is very tense, that a storm is coming.
The idea is that he/she looks at the “weather” within him/her, from a detached position. Take the opportunity to explain that moods change like the weather, and it makes no sense to grasp them. He/she must learn to observe them, understand and let them pass. You’ll see that, to the extent that you keep doing it, the child will go adding more details to his interior “weather”, which means he/she is expanding his/her emotional awareness.
3. The “frog” technique
The goal of this technique is that the child learn to breathe deeply and move the first steps in mindfulness meditation. You can start saying that you will imitate the frog, an animal that can make big jumps, but also remain motionless, watching what happens around without reacting in any way.
Ask him/her to breathe like the frog, slowly inhaling the air through the nose, while swollen the belly and dropping it very gently through the mouth, while deflates the belly. Thus seated, the frog will not be carried away by the thousands of thoughts that cross her mind, but focuses on her belly movement while breathing. This way you teach him/her self-control and, consequently, help him/her to breathe properly.
Durlak, J. A. et. Al. (2011) The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Dev; 82(1): 405-432.
Hölzel, B. K. et. Al. (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1): 36–43.
Lazar, S. W. et. Al. (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport; 16(17): 1893–1897.