Mindfulness in Schools
It's not news that pressure in schools is on the rise. Children, as young as 5, are experiencing mental health problems related to the pressure of performance, competition and increasing workloads. The changes in young people's mental health have not gone unnoticed. 84% of teachers in a recent study said "the pressure of exams and testing was contributing to mental health issues" and feel they are unequipped to recognise the signs or support the pupils appropriately.
It's not just schools that are having an impact on the increasing rise in anxiety amongst children and teenagers. Childline celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2016 and reported a 35% increase in calls related to anxiety last year - many of them to do with the state of the world and politics, including war in Syria, the EU referendum and the US Election.
With stretched resources, cuts to charities and overworked teachers, children and young people are falling through the gaps and are turning to various and sometimes dangerous coping methods. Self-harm is on the rise, particularly amongst teenage girls, with 10% 15 - 16 years reportedly self-harming.
Yet mindfulness, is perhaps offering a practical, affordable and accessible solution. There is now growing evidence on the positive effects of mindfulness on children. The report, Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People, states that studies show mindfulness practices "improve their wellbeing, reduce worries, anxiety, distress, reactivity and bad behaviour, improve sleep, self esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, and self-‐regulation and awareness". It can also directly affect their performance at school, by increasing their ability to focus, be more creative, improve their memory and even enhance their problem solving skills.
And this news is spreading all over the world. Teachers are using mindfulness sessions at the beginning of lessons to help children to arrive, and become more present, before engaging with the lesson themselves. These first few minutes allow children to calm down and move on from whatever the day has brought them so far, and gives them the chance to slow their thought processes, so they can become more attentive and focused in the lesson ahead.
Mindfulness is even being used as an intervention with children who are showing poor behavioural patterns, such as a school in Baltimore, which has made meditation a regular part of their school life and has replaced detention with mindfulness sessions. The school's Principle and staff have reported a reduction in behavioural problems and the children are learning to use these methods to help them with difficult emotions.
Meditation and other forms of mindful exercise is also being used to help children who are finding home life or the areas that they live in challenging, and are struggling in school as a result of what they've experienced before arriving at school.
If you're a teacher or work with children, there are growing resources to help you get started with teaching meditation. The Guardian has a brilliant guide (that involves introducing them to the practice with chocolate!) and we've pulled together some of our favourite talks on mindfulness and children to help inspire and educate your journey.