For me personally I have been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. I’ve been reading the book, “Mindful Parenting” with the Winans Parent Book Club and I am eager to begin to read the book for our Winans Educator Book Club called “Mindfulness for Teachers”. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is "paying attention to the present moment without judgement."
Honestly, going abroad for two years, I think taught me and really all of us, my husband and two children, that we must "pay attention to the present moment". It was easier in a way in our two years in Ecuador, living in a different country, zip-lining in the cloud forest one weekend, traveling down the river in the Amazon River the next, swimming with penguins in the Galapagos… you knew it wouldn’t last forever, so you had that mindset of “treasuring the now”. And now that we are back in the U. S., I want that mindfulness, that gratitude of each day, each relationship I have, those moments shared, to be treasured, as if again, it won’t last forever...
This past weekend it was our first visit from Grandma and Grandpa to our new home, first visit to a pumpkin patch in over two years, first fall in awhile… it makes me think about the little things we sometimes take for granted. My family didn’t know how much we missed the pumpkin patch, the fall leaves, the taste of apple cider, the visiting with grandparents… until we didn’t have it anymore. I think too often that is what happens in life and why I myself have really gained interest in all this mindfulness learning as well. A huge part of the mindfulness work is about being grateful in the moment. It is no wonder that research has found that people who are most mindful, have strong relationships, and are happier and healthier in life.
Kristen Race, Ph.D, the author of the book, Mindful Parenting, states that the first part of mindfulness "paying attention to the present moment" is pretty straight forward, but the second piece of the definition "without judgement", is the hardest.
It is not always easy to do either, especially without judgement, when life is hard. A perfect example of that may be when our child is having a meltdown… and in that moment we have a choice, to react and make it worse, or to help by being the calm. We know that most of the time when our children are upset there is something underneath it…. first things first- we can go to hunger or thirst… are their basic needs being met? Then maybe something happened to them that they can’t even explain themselves. They need listened to… really heard. Are we taking the time to do that? Personally, every time I have reacted with my own children in a punitive disciplinary way (like yelling), it has backfired and no learning has ever occurred. When I have listened, helped them calm, helped them identify what they are feeling, and then asked questions of why, this is really when learning has occurred. This is when we can reflect about how to make a different choice next time and/or how to make it better. And then if we are mindful within even these tough moments, as parents and educators, we learn! We learn the needs of our children. For example, my son needs hugged. My daughter always needs a drink of water. Instead of asking, what is wrong with this child? We ask what has happened to this child? And we become mindful in the toughest moments and learn a lot about ourselves in the meantime.
Many of us, were brought up in a punitive home. And for so long, our school system has been under a punitive school system. We have suspended kids at a drop of a hat, or used detention to “punish” kids. Research on years of this system has discovered these punitive discipline systems have no teaching element to them and may be a short term fix but long term the child gets angrier and even revengeful, mad at school, feels unwanted, and often drops out. If the home is also giving the same message, you can imagine what happens to these students.
Now is there a time or place for suspension, of course, but these mindful practices with our children- this teaching of the behaviors is what is going to long term show our children that we care about them. There are restorative and mindful practices happening all over the world now, where children and adults are learning how to calm and de-escalate themselves and not be reactive. The outcomes are incredible. And once again, I go back to what research tells us and what I know as an educator, the relationship between the adult and child is everything. This is why the beginning of the year can be so hard for so many children… they don’t know these people or “teachers” yet, and they test us at school and at home- do we care? Will we spend the time to listen, to problem solve, to help? Will we be mindful enough to take the time and not react?
There is a lot of good research around this topic right now and I feel the mindfulness work our parents at Winans are starting to learn about, as well as our teachers, are really putting us on the right path for long term success. At Winans for the past five years, the teachers and staff have been implementing a lot of this good work around a school wide positive support and discipline plan and have received the Silver Honor Award from the Montana Behavior Institute and MSU. We are carrying on with this good work this year as we learn even more about trauma informed practices, sensory education, and social and emotional learning for ourselves and our students. The mindfulness piece is part of all this amazing learning happening at our school with parents and teachers and it is truly exciting.
So do me a favor, check out our incredible mountains, look at the orange, reds, and yellows in the leaves surrounding us, think about the beauty that surrounds us and the next time something really makes you mad, upsets you… stop, breathe, count backwards 10, give yourself a “break” (even in another room), and think of something you’re grateful for, how much worse it could be… and instead of reacting, try to just be. It is amazing when children see the adults in their life trying these strategies too… what an impression it has. Together, the school and the home…imagine all our children, not reacting, but having the skills to calm and be mindful, so that they are able to make good choices, have strong positive relationships in their life, live a healthier life, and ultimately a happy life. Imagine…
If you are interested in learning more... join us at book club Oct. 24th or in our Winans Parent Book Club on facebook or check out www.mindfulschools.org