Compassionate schools that integrate mindfulness techniques and practices can help teachers and parents create more peaceful and healthier environments that foster strong relationships, reduce stress, and increase belonging and happiness. Including mindfulness practices within school routines, throughout school events, and in classrooms will foster connection and resilience in both staff and students and will help teach everyone in the school community the skills they need to help manage anxiety and depression. Teaching these practices also builds a common vocabulary within the school environment, which may make it easier for students to seek help from a caring adult, and leave the adult better equipped to identify and address student needs. As these practices are integrated into school environments, and throughout grade levels and subjects, educators can provide tools, resources, training, and support to parents and families looking to incorporate these practices in their family-life.
Both schools and families can follow the Five Mindful Habits as a structure to infuse mindful routines into school and family life, modifying as appropriate. Eventually, teachers or families could practice all five mindful habits every day, but parents could choose one habit to start with (whichever one is most appealing to them) and build on as they master each.
Five Mindful Habits to teach mindfulness and self-regulation at home and school
I. Be present
• Plan purposeful quality time, which may mean leaving the cell phones and computers locked in a closet while doing an activity that promotes family togetherness, like playing a board game or going on a hike.
• Practice active listening, which requires everyone to make eye contact, leave judgment behind, and avoid interrupting each other during discussions, especially tense ones.
II. Be calm
• Practice breath work when a taxing situation or anxiety creates acute stress.
• Practice yoga and meditation daily to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression over time.
• Coach children through emotionally challenging conflicts by validating their feelings, helping them reflect on misbehaviors through perspective-taking, and brainstorming healthy solutions to conflict or processing extreme emotions.
III. Be compassionate
• Model compassion as a family by doing acts of kindness for others in the family and community. During moments of disagreement, be sure to verbally model compassion for others’ experiences.
• Read books about compassion, like Carol McCloud’s Have You Filled a Bucket Today?
IV. Be grateful
• Be a gratitude model for children by practicing it yourself with other family members, school staff, service providers, and anyone who helps out.
• Start a family gratitude journal where everyone records things they are grateful for. Younger children can draw pictures. Families can also collect mementos to turn it into a gratitude scrapbook or treasure chest.
• Create a gratitude routine where each family member shares three things they are grateful for that day. You can do this on the car ride to school, before dinner or bedtime, or any time that’s convenient for all members of the family to participate.
• Express difficult emotions through journaling, creating art, dancing, or some other way of making sense of them.This is true for adults and children. Younger children who may not have the words to express extreme emotions can greatly benefit through art therapy.
• Find quiet moments in the day to pause, breathe, and reflect without judgment. Be grateful for the positive things andseek out a lesson in challenges without labeling them as “bad."
To help build self-regulation skills in students, start introducing schoolwide mindfulness activities like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises into the school day perhaps by having a shared mindful moment over the intercom or internet to start the day together using the breath to come back to the present moment. Comprehensive evidence-based mindfulness programs for schools, like Mindful Schools or the Kindness Curriculum, can provide training, structure, and/or lesson plans; however, any school can find free and low-cost resources to support a schoolwide mindfulness program.
Resources to Support Mindfulness Practices Throughout the School or District
• Smiling Mind’s Evidence-based guidelines for mindfulness in schools
• Online webinars like the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center’s Mindfulness Practices in School, A Districtwide Approach to Coordinating Mindfulness Implementation, and Trauma-Informed Yoga in Schools
• Books like Mindfulness Practices: Cultivating Heart Centered Communities Where Students Focus and Flourish and Mindful School Communities: The Five Cs of Nurturing Heart Centered Learning
• Local yoga and meditation teachers or staff members with training Making mindfulness a part of your school’s daily routine will help students find the sense of calm and safety within their school and themselves, reducing anxiety, reinforcing healthy