Posted on 11/05/2018
A parent workshop on Mindfulness and Understanding the Brain was held on Monday, October 29. Natalia Cepeda led the discussion on ways classrooms are using mindfulness and how mindfulness can be used at home to reduce stress.

In our district, Mindfulness is offered to classrooms. Natalia Cepeda, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindful Schools teacher is teaching the Mindful Schools curriculum in six classrooms at Baldwin. It is an 8-week program where she is in the classroom twice a week teaching and practicing mindfulness skills.

The program consists of frequent short lessons in the classroom that allows students to learn and practice mindfulness skills and to share how the skills help them at school and at home. After the program, teachers are offered support to continue practicing mindfulness with their students on an ongoing basis. In the classroom, mindfulness strategies can be used during transitions to reset or at the start of the day.

What is mindfulness? Present moment, nonjudgemental awareness of internal process, including thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Noticing how I feel in this moment.

"Mindfulness practice decreases stress and anxiety, increases attention, improves interpersonal relationships and strengthens compassion."

Students learn about the brain and how different sections of the brain affect them. The amygdala controls emotions. The pre-frontal cortex controls breathing and sensations. Impulsive reactions, triggered by emotions like fear or anger rise up from the amygdala. The amygdala is the alarm system. It reacts, but that is okay because that is its job. Everyone has the ability to regulate or calm themselves using the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex can be exercised. Mindfulness exercises can help to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting.

If you practice anything, you improve. Practicing mindfulness strengthens and improves your brains' ability.

Part of mindfulness is noticing. Can I keep my body and mind still? What am I thinking, feeling, sensing? For example, I child may be thinking - I can't do this, feeling - frustration, sensing - tension in their body.
If your child gets upset, put it into words. "I see you are frustrated." Support their frustration, telling them it's okay. Ask them to tell you what they are feeling.

Lessons may start with mindful listening. First you need a mindful body, sitting upright, noticing how your body feels, and listening. Bring attention to the sound of the bell that is rung, then the sounds of the outside world, your breath. Then focusing attention on your body, how your feet, belly, shoulders, arms and back feel. It is easy to think of your to-do list, but keep your mind on your body. Mindful breathing - concentrating on the air moving in and our, your chest, and as you breathe, you relax more.

Kids regulate themselves through the adult in the room. When you model behavior, they will do as you do.

Watching a parent regulate, using mindfulness, is helpful for a child. It is important for parents to model because kids are always watching.
To help your child, have a routine. Ask them to tell you what they are feeling. Do a body scan exercise where you start with your toes, moving to your legs, noticing how they feel, your breathing, your shoulders and neck. You can squeeze body (tighten) like a ball, and then release.

Staying still is uncomfortable and can be hard, not just for a child. A way to practice stillness is a staring contest - no moving, no blinking.

Another part of mindfulness is the practice of kindness. For parents, think of your child, put your hand on your heart and send them thoughts, "may you feel strong, find joy, peace, strength". Imagine them receiving your well wishes.

Some books Natalia referenced:
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Mindful Games by Susan Kaiser Greenland
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