Mindfulness for Kids
We have launched our “Coaching with Mindfulness” led by Hayley Phipps Tennant at our local primary school. Hayley also has been invited to work with senior four pupils at the local high school to lead a session around “Stress, anxiety and coping mechanisms”
We are also in discussions around introducing Coaching with Mindfulness for senior years one and two.
You will know mental health is generally reported in a “negative” way. What I mean is, we hear all of the stories that tend to be sad – suicide in young teenage boys is higher than ever (reported this week 7th March 17), major depression is hitting harder than ever before in our young kids lives and now famous people are being ambassadors for mental health to be talked about openly. Prince William & Princess Kate are leading the “Heads Together” mental health project – a collaborative group of mental health charities brining mental health awareness to the fore.
What makes me so passionate about doing this?
The Coaching with Mindfulness programme at Biggar Primary School is led by me. I’m a qualified personal coach specialising in psychotherapeutic approaches: Mindfulness, Neuro Linguistics, Cognitive Behavioural Coaching and Clean Language (Dr David Groves work)
I’m the Managing Director of PROtential Coaching a South Lanarkshire based business. PRO-tential (www.pro-tential.co.uk) specialises in all things coaching, mentoring, learning & development linked to human behaviours (mental toughness, resilience, communication, conflict, emotional intelligence) mainly in business settings
We became a centre of excellence for ILM (Institute of Leadership & Management) last year, which means now I’m teaching ILM qualifications in business (foundation degree level) for coaching, leadership & management.
My work week is split 50/50 with the corporate work I do and my private practise, where I coach on a 1:1 or family basis in and around Clydesdale (Facebook @CoachHayleyTennant)
I also sit on the panel for the parent council at Biggar Primary School and I’m a Mum of two boys. I’ve worked very closely with the Head-teacher, Mrs Heather Graham over the past six years. As part of our schools mental health and well-being focus, we decided to shape a full mindfulness programme eventually involving all children and teachers across the school. We’ve started with primary children in year 3, moving to children in P2/3 and now primary 4.
Our aims through this programme are to encourage the children to have fun, enquire and explore their sense of self, the ability to be kinder to self, kinder to others, find deep-seated gratitude for life and find and create headspace to “just be”.
We want to strengthen confidence and self-esteem in our kids now and create open spaces for them to speak freely about thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The children are learning how the brain can change a bit like fitness changes with practise at the gym. It’s a daily practise (just like brushing teeth) with an intention to just notice our very core of our being (our breath), what we’d like to “be” for the day and even target key behaviours/changes in the way we do things.
What is “Mindfulness?”
Mindfulness in general is best experienced rather than talked about. It is something we “are” rather than do. For children it is all about how the adults in their life model it for them. Children will tune in to our behaviour, indeed model them –because this is how we learn.
Children of course, are naturally mindful in the way that they live, very much in the present moment and are not so concerned about the past or indeed the future. The most important thing we can do is not squash the natural quality of openness and presence but re-inforce it and invites it to continue to develop.
There is solid and growing scientific evidence that mindfulness is indeed valuable to school age children.
If we think about the endless list of benefits that mindfulness brings then I’m sure at the end of you reading this you’ll be agreeing, yes – bring more mindfulness into schools! (and indeed at home!)
Learning how to practice mindfulness and then bringing all aspects of the experience into your life is a like learning how to play a musical instrument or indeed tune it! Musicians, orchestras and bands spend time tuning their instruments as well as practising their skills – they tune into each-other. Indeed this is no different to how we can spend time tuning into each-other and tuning into ourselves.
What could be more important than learning and practicing how to pay attention, how to be more present and how to be so much more relaxed and comfortable in your own skin? And how about, turning down the noise and appreciating who you are right now? With our children, what could be more important than learning and practising to be kinder to themselves and to others?
For parents and teachers, what could be more important than just being still in that space and moment of time when engaging with our little ones (and big kids!) to mindfully listen, mindfully observe, mindfully choose our words and support them on a curious and non-judgmental journey?
How about when we’re in that moment with children demonstrating real-time, in-time compassion, tuning into the child’s experience of what is going on right now?
A Small Example of Big Impact
A young 7 year old boy shared with me his experience at school one day. He was excited about his new class and his new teacher. The PE session was about to begin and the young boy inquisitively asked of his teacher “it’s a lovely sunny day outside, why are we having PE inside?”
How would you respond to this?
The reply was something like this, “it’s none of your business young man”
Now I imagine the positive intention (at the outset) of the teacher was to get everyone into line, maybe organise his class. Perhaps his thoughts were “I don’t need to explain to this child” – I don’t know. What I can share with you is that in THAT moment, this little boys’ butterfly of excitement had been squashed. In his words he “felt hurt that he’d asked a question”, “he didn’t want to ask any more questions…”
And the little boy had decided to hide his butterfly of excitement and never share it again with his teacher (at least not on that day!)
A small but fine example of how in that moment, words were not mindfully chosen, neither was the reaction or behaviour! Indeed the impact this one small space in time had on this little boy was profound.
I can recall times when I’ve behaved in a similar way to the teacher too. My intention was never to upset or hurt anyone’s feelings – but in the moment of my focus of just getting a job done just like this teacher, in time and on time, being focused on listening to someone else has been hard to do!
Sometimes just taking 3-4 seconds to stop, think and breathe before we blurt out our response is the difference that makes the difference. I worked with this little boy who became “frightened” to ask over a period of time. And the gorgeous teacher didn’t even realise the impact he had had on this wee soul. With openness, forgiveness and understanding by this teacher, the little boy continues to let his butterfly loose!
Kids Need Headspace More Than Ever!
Kids are curious and inquisitive by nature. They are keen to learn new things, tend to live in the moment and can be extremely attentive. But like many of us grown-ups, kids are often too busy. They’re tired, easily distracted and restless. Busy minds and lifestyles effect the way we feel, the way we behave and at times leads to stress, anxiety, sleepless nights and overthinking of problems that just aren’t there! Many children do too much and especially in our 21st century world of unlimited things to do, screens (phones, gaming) and our endless box of materialistic things to fill the gap, some children have little time to “just be”.
We know our kids grow up fast. There are a million and one balls to juggle on every level – socially, emotionally, at school and at home. Throw this into the mixing pot all of their learning, things to do, things to memorise, soon the lid on the pot explodes. What do we do then? They seem to be switched on all of the time but where is the pause button?
Kids (and adults) who practice mindful presence and awareness will learn to pause for a moment, catch their breath, and find a sense of what they need at this moment in time. It doesn’t mean to say the tasks and things-to-do go away, but what they can do is allow themselves to come out of auto-drive mode and take their time to bring friendly attention to who they are; their thoughts; their intention; their kindness to self – indeed to everything they do. They learn and nurture how to create space in their minds in that moment which allows them to free up any unwanted thoughts and feelings that they choose to let go.
Of course, the opposite of this is their ability to accept empowering thoughts and beliefs of who they are, how they want to be right now and check in with themselves. It’s a powerful personal inner connection that cultivates attention, patience, trust and acceptance of who they are right now.
The key to adapting mindfulness skills with kids is keeping it simple! It is about having fun, using language they understand, connecting to their need to move and play! This is our main focus with the Biggar Primary school programme.
The benefits and evidence from mindfulness programmes throughout schools for kids in the UK are simply amazing! My own experience of working with kids, families and people at work is simply profound. Sadly though in Scotland, Mindfulness programmes are not being introduced at pace- I think mainly due to budgets.
Why Mindfulness at Biggar Primary School?
The factual statistics are scary across the UK for children with mental health challenges. Children from all walks of life are being referred to CAMHS (children’s mental health services) often for anxiety, stress, self-esteem and bouts of major depression. It’s really positive we have CAMHS in place and we need more support like it. Mental health especially for children is big in the news since January 2017 with HRH Prince William taking the lead for “Heads Together” a mental health group of charities working on raising awareness and the urgent attention this needs.
We talk about generally how “prevention is better than cure”. Our aims are to capture the hearts and minds of our children right now to show, discuss, demonstrate, explore just how lovely, kind, strong & resilient they are! Research shows mentally tough and resilient individuals can be and are mostly compassionate, caring people. They draw on their inner strength.
They know how to tell themselves the stories which are helpful. They hold on to empowering beliefs which will support them for action. They have time to appreciate who they are, how their behaviours affect themselves and others. They draw strength from listening to their inner-voice. Confident, mindful and self-esteem driven people are able to quash limiting beliefs about themselves, compassionately learn from others and have a humble gratitude about their existence, gift of family, friends and life itself!
These are the key themes we are focussing on at Biggar Primary.
Here are some statistics related to mental health prescriptions from the NHS.
See statistics from Digital NHS
England: 5 July 2016: 3.9 million more items of antidepressant drugs dispensed in 2015 than in 2014
A report published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)1shows that, of all BNF drug categories2, prescription items3 for antidepressants saw the greatest numeric rise in 2015.
The report Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community 2005-20154 shows that the number of antidepressant5 items prescribed and dispensed in England has more than doubled in the last decade. In 2015, there were 61.0 million antidepressant items prescribed – 31.6 million (107.6 per cent) more than in 2005 and 3.9 million (6.8 per cent) more than in 2014.
Scotland: The number of people in Scotland treated with antidepressants has risen by 5% in the past year, according to official figures. The drugs were dispensed to 814,181 patients in 2014/15. Since 2009/10, use of antidepressants has increased by 28.5%.
Across many NHS regions “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” and “Mindfulness based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” is being prescribed as a holistic approach to support individuals to find stronger ways of coping strategies before mental health prescription drugs. It is also being used in pain management clinics. “CPN” Community Psychiatric Nurses are also specialising in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Coaching to support individuals on a daily basis.
As part of our CfE (curriculum for excellence) we wanted to take the lead in Scotland to support our kids with positive mental health and well-being!
A description for Mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be described as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations (without judgement) used as a therapeutic technique” or,
“Bringing your conscious awareness to being in the moment. Intended focus is on how our mind, body and feelings are connected”
The Approach at BPS
Through fun, interactive, exploratory discussions and games the children are able to explore their thoughts, feelings and observations around intention, attention, and kindness to self, kindness to others, appreciation of who we are, appreciation of others (both linked to gratitude) and purpose.
We also spend a few minutes during each 15 minute slot, sitting either on a chair, on the floor (whichever the child chooses is best for them!) after each session to be still; be quiet and listen to positive affirmations from me with no participation encouraged. Just silence with asking the children to take the words to their minds and heart.
There are many strategies for positive mental health and mindfulness is a great place to start.
With mindfulness at Biggar Primary we are encouraging this through games, discussions with “Gus” my puppet friend (P1-P3), drawing pictures, movement (self-touch/sensory e.g. finger movements, self-cuddles, self- hands feeling face), mirroring games (linked to better movers and better thinkers), team/small group discussions, through to the teacher in class allowing time for the children to thoughtfully reflect in silence. This also includes blowing bubbles or just taking the time to breathe and evaluate who we are and what we love about ourselves today, in the moment and right now.
I have produced a teaching resource pack for the team to use freely in-between my weekly sessions with the children, packed with simple and yet so effective exercises.
Enquiry refers to exploring in dialogue with the children their experience of practising mindfulness. Rather than explaining or teaching, enquiry offers the teacher the opportunity to take the role of the non-expert and explore the children’s’ experience of practising mindfulness with enthusiasm and curiosity. This is a wonderful way to develop a method of communicating that is based on openness, kindness and non-judgment. The enquiry process is a powerful way for the children to develop a sense of cohesion as a group and ‘experience’ the essential components of mindfulness.
We are learning that our thoughts, feelings and emotions (heart, mind, and body) are all connected and we need to look after them all in the context of days when we feel sad, lonely, happy and when we can take on the world! We are also learning that our thoughts don’t have to be our behaviours and that we are in control – we are in the driving seat!
Structure of time spent with BPS
The Mindfulness approach can be broken down into 8 themes: intention, attention, attitude, gratitude, resilience, self-kindness, kindness to others, and purpose.
Attitude to the way we pay attention. The children learn the value of non-reactivity; they continue to learn how to cultivate the freshness of the beginner’s mind and the children learn to develop their willpower and diligence. We focus on how to listen in the moment, appreciation of others’ sharing’s, experiences and opinions.
A solid way of recognising and appreciating the conditions of health, family, friends and happiness that is available for us in the present moment. Through paired and team fun we explore what and why we are grateful. Through quiet reflection time we send gifts of love to those who are closest to our hearts and receive gifts of love from those around us.
Intention refers to the inner decision to be mindful.
This relies on motivation and conscious awareness of conscious mindful behaviour, conscious mindful words for example. In the first lesson the children learn how the brain does change and grow (neuroplasticity) and why paying attention to the present moment can be of benefit to them. Children also explore the evidence of mindfulness through neuroscience research (older kids love this!) For younger ones, It’s about understanding how physical exercise works the same as exercising the brain.
This is the practice of bringing your attention back to the present moment.
The children learn about attention, how it’s key to our experience and how it tends to wander. They also begin to be aware of their attention to be present. We explore this through fun and playful games linked to sensory preferences.
Resilience is the art of handling difficult emotions, thoughts and mind-states with wisdom, courage and awareness. We explore the natural reaction to turn away from difficulty and instead cultivate the capacity to “be-with” the difficult. We explore the idea that thoughts are not facts and our thoughts don’t have to be our actions. We learn to quieten our loud inner voice and welcome an inner voice which will support and help us.
KINDNESS TO SELF
The children know with their own minds and are ready to begin cultivating an attitude of kindness and warmth towards themselves. We explore what is meant by kindness, and also how we can be kind to ourselves in practical ways.
KINDNESS TO OTHERS
Building on the understanding that everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to suffer. The children then practice cultivating kindness towards others, beginning with
friends and extending the practice to classmates and others. The children also have the opportunity to engage in acts of kindness.
The children reflect on all they have learned over time. They verbalise a personal mission statement, articulating a vision for integrating their learning and acting in a way they can be proud of. For the younger children this is done through gestures and pictures if they prefer.
Children spend a lot of time at school sitting behind desks and being asked to be still. This at a time when they are biologically programmed to move, explore and adventure into the world. As such, mindful movement is a great way to release some of this energy and often the children are very happy to be still after moving a lot. What’s more, mindful movement offers new avenues for the children to deepen their understanding and application of
mindfulness in daily life. Examples of this are mirroring exercises (which links to having to really be in the moment and listen), dancing to music (finding space in the music – linking to finding space in the brain to rest) and glitter bottles. (see FB @coachhayleytennant – there is a video there on “mindful glitter jars”)
Mindfulness is not something you can make somebody do. For mindfulness to be mindfulness it has to come from within. If children are to be mindful, they have to decide of their own will to bring their mind to the present moment and practise being aware of what is happening. As such it is crucial to engage children at Biggar Primary and for them to decide that mindfulness is something they want to do. If it’s boring they simply won’t engage, so the most powerful way to do this is to make it fun and interesting!
Dr. Willard (educational psychologist) points out that a lot of undesirable behaviour is caused by kids’ lack of healthy coping skills. Mindfulness training can be a very effective way to help them stay focused and not give in to impulses, whether the impulse is for self-destructive behaviour or simply blurting out answers in class rather than waiting to be called on.
But it’s important that mindfulness is not to be perceived as something adults are imposing on the kids to make them more docile. Instead, it should be presented as a set of skills that help the kids meet their own goals, whether that’s more success as an athlete, less test anxiety, or a way to cope with depression, anger, and boredom.
It’s also essential that parents and teachers practice what we preach!
I have witnessed frustrated adults screaming at children, “Calm down, just take a deep breath and count to ten!” I’m still waiting to see this work effectively.
It’s far more effective to acknowledge the adults’ frustration and take a moment to calm down together. That way, we and the children we care about can “learn from and become role models for each other” as we endeavour to become more mindful.
BPS Teaching Team & the Plan
We have scheduled up to May including P4/P5 with touch-points with P3 & P3/2. The class teacher is with me when I visit and invite the teacher to join in with the exercise and discussion. This action centred learning from all involved, especially including me!
We are using the book for teachers, “Mindfulness Skills for Kids & Teens” by Debra Burdeck
This is a workbook for clinicians & clients. This book boasts 154 tools, techniques, activities and worksheets. I have extracted exercises from this book (from the downloadable code when purchased) and we’ve created a folder for each teacher to read and practise these in class when I am not with them.
It is crucial that the teacher models excellence through practising mindfulness through own behaviours, language patterns and approach.
When teachers learn to master the art of mindfulness, the necessary attention switching is more conscious, spacious and purposeful. There is a more caring and intentional inner awareness as well a more caring and intentional awareness of the complex interplay of relationships between themselves and their students. This leads to increased calmness, clearer thinking and decision making and more compassion for self and others.
Mindfulness together with personal outcomes should never be used as a disciplinary tool. In practise as teachers we focus on our language patterns which are littered with positive affirmations, assurance and seek to build self-esteem – always!
Teachers cannot expect their students to practice mindfulness unless they are practicing and modelling it themselves. This doesn’t mean teachers have to become ‘mindfulness experts’ before they can introduce it to their students. Mindfulness is a great skill for teachers to learn alongside of children, provided the teacher is honest that this is what they are doing.
Mindfulness deepens over years of practice, and awareness becomes increasingly more subtle and fine-tuned. The learning never stops.
What’s The Research?
A study conducted at the University of Edinburgh in 2014, exploring children’s experiences of the Youth Mindfulness Kids Programme found that:
- 98% of children report benefits from participating in the Youth Mindfulness Kids Programme.
- 92% of children reported an enhanced ability to regulate their emotions and tolerate strong affect.
- 72% of children reported that mindfulness helps them to focus, pay attention, and concentrate.
- 72% of children report an enhanced ability to be less reactive towards others, being less aggressive and engaging less frequently in physical and verbal confrontation.
- 77% of children report improvements in peer and family relationships.
- Over 55% of children report that mindfulness helps them to enjoy life more, demonstrating enhanced gratitude, happiness, optimism and quality of life.
*Mental illness is at an all-time high; according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), about 11 per cent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school with the average age of onset being 14 years of age. It is generally accepted that anxiety and depression are amongst the fastest-growing health challenges to our society at present. According to Anxiety UK, anxiety and depression have increased 13% in the UK since 1993, and one in ten children and young people aged 5–16 has a mental health disorder.
In total, 55% of 338 school leaders surveyed by the Association of School and College Leaders reported a large rise in pupils with anxiety and stress. The survey, launched at the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) annual conference in Birmingham, found that over the past five years:
– 79% of heads saw an increase in self- harm or suicidal thoughts among students.
– 40% reported a big rise in cyber-bullying
– 53% of those who had referred a pupil to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) rated them poor or very poor.
Following the publication of the ‘Mindful Nation’ Report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG) there have been launches in London, Cardiff, Belfast and Birmingham, but nothing in Scotland. This was a cross party effort by our representatives at Westminster and appears to have been taken up enthusiastically across the UK, but not in Scotland.*
*research as quoted by Heather Grace Mackenzie (studying PhD in Mindfulness, Neuroscience)* **There are endless amounts of neuroscience research papers available freely to view on the internet**
What are the benefits of mindfulness in educational settings?
- Increases responsiveness to students’ needs.
- Supports stress management and stress reduction for teacher
- Enhances classroom climate
- Strengthens attention and concentration.
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves classroom participation.
- Enhances social and emotional learning.
- Builds self-affirmation, empowering beliefs
- Stronger relationships with understanding
Of course the benefits and skills for life are endless!
At Biggar Primary School we are promoting coaching with mindfulness which links to the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) “Mental and emotional wellbeing”
These statements are taken from CfE.
“I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing my ability to talk about them
I understand that my feelings and reactions can change depending upon what is happening around me. This helps me to understand my own behaviour and the way others behave.
I know that we all experience a variety of thoughts and emotions that affect how we feel and behave and I am learning ways of managing them.
I am learning skills and strategies which will support me in challenging times, particularly in relation to change and loss
I understand the importance of mental wellbeing and that this can be fostered ad strengthened through personal coping skills and positive relationships. I know that it is not always possible to enjoy good mental health and that if this happens there is support available”
Summary – it’s all work in progress!
The kids are really enjoying what we are doing in class. It’s amazing to experience their sharing and in the moment learning with them.
My aim is to continue to raise the profile of what we are achieving at Biggar Primary.
We’re in the Lanark Gazette this week, Peebleshire News next week. I’m waiting to hear whether STV Live at Five will be interested in featuring us in their programme. I’m engaging with Aileen Campbell MSP for this type of programme to feature as everyday life at school.
We need to continue to take action now to raise awareness of positive mental health.
We held a workshop for the kids and school community on February 9th just to share a few snippets of what we get up to in class!
Here’s some of the Feedback from the attendees:
“Hayley, I thought your workshop was excellent tonight. The children’s enthusiasm was clear to see & by learning these skills at such an early age is the way to reverse those frightening statistics”
“Thanks Hayley for your energy, passion and bringing mindfulness to our school for everyone to embrace. You’re “in the moment” in practise and we all need a bit more of that”
“My xxxx is really enjoying your sessions at school. She is now able to speak with me when she needs more of my time, when she needs me to focus more attention with her. She is so much more confident with herself and speaks more openly because of what you’re doing”
“You’re inspiring for everyone who knows you. Thank you for caring for our kids – you’ve opened up space for conversations to happen that might never have seen the light of day”
And reflections from just some of our kids:
“I love being at peace with myself. I like being calm”
“When I’m cross my heart races and I nearly can’t breathe! But when I am calm, I notice my tummy is settled. I like breathing”
“ I like being me. I like me being kind”
“I talked to my Granny about stuff which I didn’t think I could say before. I’m really happy with that”
“I feel really peaceful and I love my life”
“I notice when I am being kind how my friends are with me. I like that”
“I know how to stop that feeling in my chest now”
“When my head is fuzzy, my Mum sits with me and we take the time to make space. We wait for the brain glitter to settle”
“I like our mirroring game. I found it hard because I had to listen and watch really hard. I really had to focus and when I did it was great”
“I’ve stopped screaming at my Mum. I hear my voice saying – take your time”
References: Mindfuless for Kids & Teens, Debra Burdick
Sitting Still Like a Frog
Youth Mindfulness Programme Scotland