School's In: Why Can't We Be as Mindful as the Brits?

By Marilynn Preston

February 12, 2019 5 min read

Brexit is creating a lot of bad press for Britain these days, but here's a recent headline about the U.K. worth celebrating with a warm Guinness:

"English Schools Will Give Meditation A Try."

Cheerio! The British government just announced that students in up to 370 English schools will get mindfulness training in their classrooms.

They'll learn easy effective relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, all designed to help kids cope with their emotions, focus better and feel happier about themselves. You just can't say that about algebra.

"The modern world has brought new pressures for children," said Damian Hinds, the British education secretary, in the understatement of the year. "Children will start to be introduced to issues around mental health, well-being and happiness from the start of primary school."

I know we broke free of British rule a while ago, but maybe we were hasty. This new initiative is something our own education secretary should imitate immediately — and in 30,000 U.S. schools, not 300.

What are we waiting for? It's been proven over and over again that mindfulness skills benefit kid's brains and well-being and help them behave like the good boys and girls they were before social media, bullying and the End of Empathy wrecked havoc on so many lives.

Kids who meditate have longer attention spans, improved mental health, better engagement with teachers and other students and greater capacity to handle stress.

Does your kid's school offer mindfulness training? More and more do, but it's still way too hit-and-miss. I urge you to find out and act accordingly. If your school has it, sign up your child tomorrow. If it doesn't, do a little exploring and see whom to talk to. And write to education secretary Betsy DeVos directly and let her know it's never too late for redemption.

Meanwhile, there are many ways you can introduce your own kids to mindfulness training. Here are a few of the best I've found:

— LISTEN TO THE BELL. This good idea comes from Sarah Rudell Beach, a teacher, writer and "mindfulness ambassador," who knows how important it is to keep it simple when you're teaching kids to meditate. Strike a chime or ring a bell and then ask your child to listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound you made, which could take 30 seconds to a minute. This simple exercise has a calming effect on her own kids, Beach reports, and it's a fun way to teach kids to pay attention to their surroundings. (If it's not fun for kids, forget it!)

— OBSERVE YOUR PERSONAL WEATHER. In "Sitting Still Like a Frog" by Eline Snel — a book that Beach recommends — kids are encouraged to describe what they're feeling in weather report fashion: sunny, windy, cold, stormy, calm. This helps kids observe themselves in the moment without identifying too closely with their emotional state. It's just weather. We can't change the weather outside, but we can see it differently. As Snel writes, "I am not the downpour, but I notice it is raining."

— SMELL THE ROSES. "Scent is a great way to help kids become more aware of the here-and-now," psychotherapist Amy Morin tells people who want to help their kids develop mindfulness skills. Simply give your child something aromatic to pay attention to — a flower, an orange or, just for giggles, her own sock. "Close your eyes," you begin, asking simple questions like "what do you think of that smell?" The answer isn't the point; learning to become aware of your senses is. And it all begins when you are taught to go inward and focus.

— COOL THE PIZZA. This clever breathing exercise — another suggestion from Amy Morin at Verywell Family — can help your child recover his cool after a meltdown of any sort. Ask him to breathe in through his nose like he's smelling a piece of pizza and then blow out through his mouth like he's cooling a piece of hot pizza. The trick is to practice it with your kid when he's calm so that when he gets angry or anxious, you can remind him to be more mindful by saying "Cool the pizza!"

If only this worked with adults — in, say, Washington, D.C.

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! WHY IT MATTERS

"Mindfulness is our ability to attend to the present moment, with curiosity and without judgement. It promotes well-being, concentration, resilience and empathy." — Jon Kabat-Zinn

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new Amazon best-seller, "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being," is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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