Mindfulness is a proven technique used to reduce stress and help people cope with tough times.
Children and young people practice mindfulness

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness means moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgment.

It’s a state of being, rather than a trait. Rooted in Eastern traditions, this non-judgmental awareness encourages us to slow down, focus on the present and accept things as they are.

When we do this, we’re less distracted by thoughts of the future and the past, which can often make us worry and stop us from enjoying the present moment.

Mindfulness is very simple

It’s a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells or anything that you might not normally notice. Despite this simplicity, it doesn’t come easily to us.

You’ve probably noticed that children and young people are much better at being mindful. While we might be hurrying them to get to school on time, they’ll stop to look at butterflies, flowers or bugs and be immersed in that moment, with no worries about the past or future. As adults, however, we’re often thinking about what we need to do next or what we wish we’d done differently.

Mindfulness takes practice

It’s about learning to control where our attention lies, rather than allowing it to be dominated by concerns which take us away from experiencing the present moment. It allows us to stay open, curious and flexible about the moment that we’re in.

  • What are the benefits? 

    Clinically proven tool to support your wellbeing and mental health

    It can help you feel calmer, bring clarity and enhance your creativity and awareness. Research has found many other benefits, including: 

    • reduced rumination (continuously thinking about upsetting situations and things)
    • reduced stress, anxiety and depression
    • improved focus and working memory (being able to recall and use relevant information)
    • improved immune function (resistance to disease)
    • increased self-awareness, social awareness and self-confidence.
  • Why should educators practise mindfulness?

    Educators who adopt a mindfulness practice bring a present-moment awareness into the classroom.

    This state naturally translates to supporting children and young people’s wellbeing.

    Research has found that children and young people not only prefer to interact with mindful adults, but they actually devalue themselves following interactions with non-mindful adults. So, educators can positively influence wellbeing and learning by understanding, modelling and embedding mindfulness principles into their learning environments. 

    Gently redirecting children and young people to the present moment and self-awareness benefits them by:

    • improving resilience (building skills to cope better with stress)
    • increasing their ability to self-regulate through breathing and other grounding techniques, especially difficult emotions such as fear and anger
    • improving empathy (their ability to understand how another person is feeling, which helps them to build positive relationships).

    By practising mindfulness, you can support your own wellbeing and that of the whole learning community.

  • How do you practise mindfulness?

    Meditation is a traditional pathway

    Mindful meditation is about concentrating on your breathing while observing (but not reacting to) any thoughts or feelings that come up.

    You notice your experience, thoughts and emotions with a sense of curiosity rather than judgment and keep bringing your attention back to your breathing every time you notice your mind wandering to the past or the future.

    Here’s how to give it try:

    • adopt a relaxed posture
    • focus your awareness on your breath
    • observe and acknowledge what you’re experiencing in that moment, without trying to change your thoughts or solve any problems that arise
    • focus on the sensations you experience as you breathe. You could say to yourself something like “relax” or “let go” with every exhale
    • if you have any strong thoughts or feelings, you can say to yourself, “It’s OK, I can make space for this feeling”, and focus your attention back on your breath.
    It’s not always easy, but keep going

    You will find your thoughts wandering – that’s completely normal. At first, you might only do this for a minute or so. Try to increase the time you spend on it each day. And don’t berate yourself when your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to your breathing each time. It’s the very practice of repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breath that creates a mindful state. 

    Another meditation method is to focus on three things you can see and describe them in as much detail as possible. Then focus on three things you can hear; then on three things you can physically feel (for example, the seat below you, the way your clothes touch you, or the breeze). Take your time to notice as much as you can about each item.

    You can practise mindfulness in nearly everything you do

    You can take a mindful approach to everyday activities, no matter how mundane or simple they might be. It’s easy to build in to your day. Next time you have a snack, take your time and focus on the feel, smell, taste and sensation of chewing.

    When you go for a walk, focus on the stretch and movement of your muscles, the sensation of your feet touching and leaving the ground, and the way your arms swing. You can bring your full awareness to the task of brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. The beauty of mindfulness is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, with no special equipment required. 

  • A mindfulness practice in the classroom

    Why not incorporate mindfulness into your classroom?

    You can practise your daily routine and share the benefits with children and young people by:

    • giving them the opportunity to learn mindfulness techniques
    • sharing how mindfulness increases self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and better decision-making
    • encouraging them to identify situations when they feel mindfulness would be helpful
    • encouraging children and young people (and your colleagues) to use the Smiling Mind website to learn more about and practise mindfulness
    • using mindfulness to focus in on a particular skill (for example, self-awareness).

    Consider having information available for families so they can support the practice at home.

    You could invite families to sit in on a classroom mindfulness session (Smiling Mind has resources to develop your skills in facilitating mindfulness meditation). Or talk to your leadership team about teaching mindfulness as part of your social and emotional curriculum.

    Be You Wellbeing Tools

    Learn more about specific tools for mindfulness in Wellbeing Tools for You and Wellbeing Tools for Students.

  • References

    Davis, D.M., & Hayes, J.A. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness. Washington: America Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx.

    Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., Bonus, K., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout, and teaching efficacy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 182-195.

    Langer, E., Djikic, M., Pirson, M., Madenci, A., & Donohue, R. (2010). Believing is seeing: Using mindlessness (mindfully) to improve visual acuity. Psychological Science, 21(5), 661-666.

    Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M. L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., ... & Isberg, R. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291-307.