Dr. Donna Housman:"To start, it's important to make a distinction between mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness involves focusing one’s awareness on the present moment – on one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This allows us to be more aware of not only our self but also of the people around us. In so doing, we are better able to respond in more effective and constructive ways. That’s what our emotional, cognitive and social early learning program, begin to ECSEL, is all about. It promotes in young children the ability to be aware of, identify, understand and regulate not only our own emotions but those of the people around us.
To achieve that awareness, meditation is one method that can be used. However, with young children, meditation can be difficult, so it's important to also find other ways to foster that self-awareness. Two methods I suggest are deep breathing and causal talk, both of which are key components of our begin to ECSEL program.
Meditation techniques, such as deep breathing with young children, help kids become less anxious and more focused and better able to manage the intensity of emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and excitement. One technique we've found to be very effective is teaching young children how to pay attention to their breathing. We do this through a game/activity of smelling the flower (in breath) and blowing out the candles (out breaths) and once they do this they learn this helpful technique and are able to become calm and more focused on what is causing them to feel angry, sad, afraid, excited and or happy. Becoming more aware of how their feelings are connected to their thoughts and behavior allows them not only to gain physiological control but also control over their feelings, thinking and behavior - to gain self-regulation."
Q:Do you think meditation should be part of the school curriculum?
Dr. Donna Housman: Absolutely. As we see the rise in levels of anxiety, stress, depression and suicide soar among young people there needs to be a focus in schools at all levels to help kids, and teachers, handle their emotions and cope with their stress, as well as the emotions of those around them.
Q: What are the main benefits of meditation for school children?
Dr. Donna Housman: Meditation and mindfulness techniques for both children and teachers allow them to take a step away from the moment, get their breathing and their bodies under control, clear their minds and allow them to deal with the situation at hand in a more productive and effective way. We also know that when the brain's energy is freed up from the enormous and burdensome clutter of stress and anxiety, that energy then becomes available for children to learn, grasp new concepts, problem-solve, focus and attend, be empathetic and understanding of others, and help build the skills necessary to succeed in the classroom and the world beyond.
Q:Have you encountered any opposition from parents?
Dr. Donna Housman:No, parents themselves are also experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety. The parents I have worked with understand the importance of children being able to identify their emotions and handle their big feelings, as well as being able to recognize the emotions of their playmates, their teachers, and their parents. Having the skills to handle and cope with your own emotions, and the emotions of others benefits everyone at any age and is critical for building a strong future for all of us.