Improve Elementary School Children Behavior with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Research shows that mindfulness skills improve memory, organizational skills, reading and math scores, all while giving kids the tools they need to handle toxic stress.” – Michelle Kinder
Elementary school environments have a huge effect on development. They are also excellent times to teach children the skills to adaptively negotiate its environment. Mindfulness training in school, at all levels has been shown to have very positive effects. These include academic, cognitive, psychological, and social domains. Importantly, mindfulness training in school appears to improve the student’s self-concept. It also improves attentional ability and reduces stress, which are keys to successful learning in school. Since, what occurs in the early years of school can have such a profound, long-term effect on the child it is important to further study the impact of mindfulness training on elementary school children.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of a School-Based Mindfulness Program for Young Children.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8046640/ ) Sciutto and colleagues recruited kindergarten through 3rd grade children aged 5 to 9 years. They were assigned to either receive an 8-week 16 session mindfulness program or to a 4-week delay before the mindfulness program. The teachers rated the children’s behavior for emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems, prosocial behavior, and student engagement. Teacher engagement was also measured.
During the 4-week delay period there were no significant changes in the children’s behavior. But over the 8-week mindfulness training period there was a significant increase in prosocial behaviors and decrease in externalizing behaviors. This was true for all classes except kindergarten. They also found that the higher the levels of teacher engagement and student engagement, the higher the levels of prosocial behaviors and the lower the levels of externalizing behaviors.
These are interesting results that suggest that mindfulness training in elementary school children improves their behaviors. Prosocial behaviors including sharing, helping, and cooperating were improved. In fact, the mindfulness program specifically included training in mindful prosocial behavior. So, it was not surprising that these behaviors were improved. Externalizing behaviors including hyperactivity and conduct problems were also improved. Since, these behaviors interfere with instruction and student learning, it would be expected that their reduction would contribute to overall learning, although this was not measured.
In addition, the engagement in the program of teachers and students appears to be very important for the benefits to accrue. Hence, strides should be taken to insure engagement. Overall, the results indicate that the mindfulness program is beneficial for the children and the learning environment. It would be interesting to explore whether these effects are transitory or improve student behavior as they progress through the years.
So, improve elementary school children behavior with mindfulness.
“For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life. It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.” – Annika Harris
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Sciutto, M. J., Veres, D. A., Marinstein, T. L., Bailey, B. F., & Cehelyk, S. K. (2021). Effects of a School-Based Mindfulness Program for Young Children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1–12. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-01955-x
Schools are an attractive setting for implementation of mindfulness-based programs because mindfulness practices, by their very nature, align with a wide range of core educational goals. The present study investigated the effects of an 8-week (16 session) school-based mindfulness program for young children across 8 classrooms (K through 2) using a quasi-experimental delayed-intervention control group design. Results indicated that the mindfulness program was associated with significant improvements in teacher ratings of externalizing and prosocial behaviors. Program outcomes were not associated with child sex or race/ethnicity, but did vary by grade. Descriptive analyses suggest that outcomes tended to be more positive in classrooms with higher levels of teacher and student engagement. Results of the present study add to the growing knowledge base on the positive effects of school-based mindfulness programs and point to a need for more rigorous inquiry into the extent to which students and teachers are engaged with mindfulness programs both during the program itself and in their day to day functioning.