The Lower School’s new mental health programs demonstrates the power of mindfulness.
This January and February, the Lower School initiated a Wellness Wednesdays program to focus on mindfulness and mental health in Sidwell Friends’ youngest grades. Wellness Wednesdays feature child psychologist Dr. Lenka Glassman P ’36, author of the Kid Confident book series. Each week, Glassman and Lower School Principal Adele Paynter explore topics such as managing our bodies, working through anxiety, and handling overwhelming emotions.
“As a society, we are phenomenally distracted, and we are passing those habits on to our children,” says Paynter. “In schools, we see the impact of this on kids and their learning. They have difficulty sustaining attention, curbing impulsivity, and sitting with uncomfortable feelings—which, of course, are all a part of the learning process.” Mindfulness, she adds is a powerful strategy to combat distractedness. “While some of us might still equate mindfulness with the ‘warm and fuzzy’ aspects of life, it’s actually an incredibly practical tool and is used everywhere from corporate America to the military to the NFL,” says Paynter. “The good and bad news is that the most effective way to bring mindfulness to kids is to embody it ourselves.” In fact, researchers say, when it comes to mindfulness for children, it is most effective when it is part of the family culture that includes the parents. “If I had to choose one focus for families,” says Paynter, “this would be the area I would say we need to spend the most time on in order for our kids to be able to learn deeply and become their best selves.”
Research shows that, with practice, children ages 4 and up can incorporate mindfulness as a tool to use independently as they navigate the big feelings (positive and negative) that are part of growing up. And one of the most effective ways to harness mindfulness is incredibly simple: intentional breathing. “The power of breath has been known for centuries, and it is one of the most important tools in our toolkit,” says Paynter. “When we control our breathing, we can control our bodies and, in turn, help manage our feelings.” Glassman, too, employs a series of breathing techniques with young children, including “box breathing,” “pinwheel breathing,” “rainbow breathing,” and others. Learn more by listening to Glassman here, or click here to read through her slides.
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