By Azia Whitted
While summer temperatures are still blazing and vacationers are still packing their suitcases for one last summer trip, parents have officially shifted gears. School is in!! They have spent the last couple weeks – grabbing last minute needs, shopping back to school clothing sales and deciphering if their child needs one red folder or two blue ones for “Meet the Teacher” night. Students are reconnecting with old friends they haven’t seen, comparing schedules, preparing for the next grade and possibly experiencing a few first day jitters.
Along with all the excitement of a new school year, emotions of nervousness, anxiety and overwhelm can also be present. Questions like…
“Will I be able to keep us in class?”, “Will I make friends?”, “Will I like my new school?”
…can flood a student’s mind and sometimes go unspoken. The one item that isn’t on our students list but should be is mindfulness. Mindfulness is universal and teaches us how to be present. A common misnomer is that mindfulness is only practiced by a meditation guru, a certain religion or particular group of people; however, it is accessible to all ages- including your student. It is a tool that can impact their mental health and overall well-being which is especially important in today’s climate.
Researchers from a 2023 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes K-12 students reporting continued elevated levels of stress, depression and anxiety which has caused a stream of legislation addressing student mental health and wellness in 2022. The American Psychological Association showed in a national survey, almost three quarters of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress in 2021 . Colleges and high schools are partnering with counselors to increase their services and elementary and middle schools are implementing SEL (social emotional learning) activities into their curriculum. Equipping your student with a mindfulness practice will provide them with self-regulating tools needed to navigate their school health in a healthy way.
By this point, you’re probably asking how and when you are going to add another thing to your never ending to-do list as a parent and it’s understandable. A mindfulness practice does not have to be a laborious task. Here are three exercises you and your child can do no matter what age or ability. They can be practiced at home, in the car or at school.
1. Practice Deep Breathing – Our breath is always flowing in and out of us subconsciously; one way to relax, focus our attention and reduce our heart rate if elevated is to practice deep breathing. Take time to focus on your breathing, inhaling in the mouth and exhaling out through the nose. Repeat throughout the day as a stress management tool.
2. Tap into your senses – When feeling overwhelmed or needing a moment, try bringing some awareness to the things around you with this countdown. Name five things you
see, four things you hear, three things you feel (on or around you not emotions), two things you smell and one thing you taste. This attention will help you be present and centered.
3. Body Scan – Teaching students to be more attuned with their bodies, younger children and teens can enjoy this activity. For younger students have them touch various body parts starting with their heads, face, shoulders and on and describe how it feels. Is it soft, boney, bumpy, hairy? For preteens and adolescents, this activity can be done with them working their way through parts of their body and noting any tension or tightness. They can practice clenching their fist then releasing to feel what it’s like for their body to relax. Encourage them to relax their shoulders, unclench their jaw and straighten their back.
Students deserve to have a productive and enjoyable year this school season. Developing mindfulness habits won’t only help them on their campuses but will also increase their self-awareness, promote feelings of calm and overall, well-being. While you may not see Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn on your required reading this year, don’t forget to consider adding this tool to your toolbox with all your other supplies.