Magnificent Mindfulness

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The world has been through a lot over the last few months. We went from normal life to ‘lockdown’ in a matter of days. While this was a welcome rest for many families, it was stressful for others. The return to school went extremely well considering the immense amount of change our students experienced in a short space of time. While most students were excited about the return to school there was the potential for some to arrive with a variety of feelings ranging from mild worry to severe anxiety about the transition back to learning. In response to this, teachers recognised the need for structure, security and strategies to help students to manage their emotions. 

Mindfulness is a bit of a buzz word currently, but what actually is it? Being mindful means paying attention to what is happening in the present moment.It means slowing down to truly notice what we are doing and what is happening around us. When we are mindful, we are relaxed and focused. Practicing mindfulness helps us to worry less about what may or may not happen in the future, and let go of things that have already happened. Many teachers at Wairakei Primary have incorporated mindfulness into their classroom programme as a way to relax and focus.

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Room 9 students practice mindfulness regularly as a part of their day.

Mindfulness makes us feel quiet and makes our worries go away. It cools us down and is quiet. Amaya

It’s relaxing. It is nice to hear what is outside and it takes my worries away. Amelia

As well as being a calming and steady influence, it has also been important for teachers to validate children’s feelings. Emotions are necessary for human survival. They keep us safe and connected to other people. Children need to know it is ok to feel the way they do. This being said, big emotions can become a problem when they are left unchecked or they are expressed inappropriately. One of the keys to addressing out of control feelings is to first identify the emotion. Many children struggle to recognise worry or anger before it is too late. Worry often takes the form of a sore tummy with young children and anger is frequently a mask to conceal more vulnerable emotions such as sadness or fear. If children are able to identify their emotions they are more likely to be able to manage them effectively.

There are many mindfulness based strategies for managing big emotions. Breathing techniques work well as they increase oxygen to the brain and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body and mind to feel calm. Using the senses to focus on the environment also helps to promote a sense of calm and there are many activities that can help with this. 

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Jeremy listens to a breathing app to guide him through a mindfulness exercise.

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Te Whetu listens to an app to help him focus on his breathing.

Mrs Young does the listening one with us. She makes us see things to calm us down. Nathan

Negative self-talk can often result in overwhelming emotions and can continue the cycle of anxiety - ‘I feel anxious. I can’t do it because I feel anxious. I feel anxious because I can’t do it.’ And so the cycle continues. Another focus in many classrooms across New Zealand is on the ‘Growth Mindset’. Carol Dweck developed the growth mindset theory which believes that children with a fixed mindset see their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents as fixed traits, something they are born with. In contrast, children with a growth mindset believe their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort and persistence. Possessors of a fixed mindset will often berate themselves with negative self talk. There are many activities and exercises that promote the growth mindset and can help children to banish negative self talk. 

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Max is a mindfulness expert and uses it at school and at home to help calm his mind and focus.

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Keywords: Mindfulness, Social and Emotional Skills

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