Q | I’m interested in trying mindfulness exercises with my students. Can you recommend a few?
A | It’s excellent you’re thinking of this. An emerging body of research shows that mindfulness practices can be very useful in helping kids cope with difficult emotions, especially anxiety.
When working with elementary students, there are a couple of good mindfulness exercises. One is to help kids learn how to do deep breathing, specifically diaphragmatic breathing, which allows them to take deep breaths and focus on each inhalation and exhalation. Another is progressive muscle relaxation, which helps kids become aware of the sensations that are happening in various parts of their body, and then relax each muscle. With younger kids, use things they can connect with—like thinking about squeezing lemons or squishing their feet in the mud—to help them understand how to do this.
With older kids, try to help them engage in exercises where they become aware of the thoughts in their minds and then think about how to compassionately accept those thoughts or just let them go. (You might tell them to visualize floating peacefully down a river rather than fighting the current.) Mindfulness helps people realize they don’t need to pass judgment on their thoughts or stop having them; they can just let the thoughts happen.
Question for a child psychologist?
David Anderson, Ph.D., is senior director for the ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org). He is a clinical psychologist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders in children and adolescents.
Photo: Gregory Bull/AP Photo (student Miguel Ruvalcaba in district yoga program, Encinitas [CA] Union SD, 12/11/12)