It's back to school season, and no doubt there are a growing number of anxious students. That's why you may want to consider introducing the practice of mindfulness into their lives.

Cheryl Blackington, youth mindfulness instructor from the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness stopped by My West Michigan to explain the practice.

When teaching kids and teens, It's important to understand the three major parts of the brain that are involved. They are the amygdala (reactions involve fight, flight, freeze, fold); the prefrontal cortex (our higher level problem solving, executive part of the brain); and the hippocampus (memory center).

According to Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness:

  • Mindfulness is the ability to stay in the present moment with kindness and compassion and curiosity. When we are in the past or future, as in worry about events that are going to happen, or worrying about what has already happened = stress.
  • Mindfulness is experiential because you have to do it in order to get the benefits. The more you practice, the stronger this "muscle gets." We often tell our kids to focus, but we don't show them how. We want them to be happy, but again we don't show them how. We want them to be able to regulate their difficult emotions but we don't show them how. Mindfulness training teaches them the social emotional skills that will benefit them their entire lives.
  • Kids will find these skills useful in school when they can learn to focus for longer periods of time, or are worried about taking a test, or on their first day of school. It helps them know what to do when they have strong emotions. It builds resilience as they become more and more confident in their own ability to solve problems. Athletes for example, use mindfulness to learn how to be in the zone, thus becoming top performers.
  • School is about to start and it's a time of excitement on one the hand, and dread on the other hand Parents can help their children by taking the time to listen to their child's feelings or worries. Let them know that all kids have worries and they are not alone. When they start imagining awful things, they can just breathe.
  • Remember that this is a time of transition for the entire family and change can be hard. So try going through a rehearsal with them before school starts. Set up a system that will make your morning run smoothly. Take time to pause and breathe when tensions begin to rise. Small children can do belly breathing. Older kids can do 5 finger breathing. At breakfast try a 30 second or one minutes pause. Just listen to all of the sounds in the room- while you are breathing! You can do the same with sight- try to notice everything you can in the room in one minute. Then share what you each saw.
  • So slowing down, breathing, remaining calm are all very helpful for you and your children.

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