By Camille Nadal

Children in primary school are at an age where they are expected to be more aware and in control of their emotions. Some children however show aggressive behaviour towards other kids or teachers. Verbal or physical threats, throwing things with intent to harm in classroom or playground, mocking others or using technology to bully or undermine another child: a number of reasons can explain these behaviours.

Aggressive behaviours at school

If those are rarely intentional and planned, they could mean that a child is experiencing difficulties in dealing with their emotions. In the context of a classroom with 30 other students to take care of, teachers may have difficulty addressing this kind of emotion dysregulation and may not have been trained in how to deal with it. However, introducing mindfulness in class to help children better accept and deal with their emotions could be a way to support their mental well-being and to reduce problematic behaviours at school.

Mindfulness in education

Mindfulness is defined as a quality of focused attention on the present moment accompanied by a non-judgmental stance (Kabat-Zinn, 1992). Exercises such as deep breathing, visualising upcoming stressful situations or colouring mandalas aim at giving individuals tools to better handle daily life events and gain in flexibility to adapt to unexpected events. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of mindfulness to improve clinical symptoms and well-being and shown that cultivation of mindfulness skills helps to develop cognitive skills such as retention, thinking, problem solving, and emotional balance (Lillard, 2011; Bush, 2011).

These studies advocate for the potential that mindfulness could have if introduced at school. Some studies have been exploring the impact of mindfulness sessions on primary school students. One study in a rural school showed that mindfulness sessions lead to improved mood, concentration, and immediate auditory-verbal memory in the children (Ricarte et al., 2015).

Today

While mindfulness may not be officially included in national education programs, some well known educational approaches may rely on its principles. The most well known is probably Montessori education that includes a number of practices and values whose goals and structures are consistent with mindfulness (Hanh, 1999; Kabat-Zinn, 1992). For instance, this program includes meditations and mindful movement sessions. A drawback to these schemes is that they are usually not universally accessible.

Sometimes though, we see schools taking initiatives to sensitise children to well-being. For example, St. Ronan’s N.S. (Clondalkin, Ireland) celebrated a Well-Being week during which children practiced meditation and yoga as well as other exercises such as the “Funky Shoes Day” where they wore odd shoes to signify to ‘walk a Mile’ in someone else’s shoes before judging them.

Acknowledgements

This research has been conducted as part of the AffecTech Marie Curie Innovative Training Network. AffecTech is funded by the European Commission and dedicated to delivering effective low-cost self-help technologies to help sufferers of affective health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders.

AffecTech is committed to raising awareness about Mental Health issues and is supporting WHO’s World Mental Health Day 2018.

References

Bush, M. (2011). Mindfulness in higher education. Contemporary Buddhism. https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2011.564838

Hanh, T. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness. Boston: Beacon.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1992). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. PsycCRITIQUES. https://doi.org/10.1037/032287

Lillard, A. S. (2011). Mindfulness Practices in Education: Montessori’s Approach. Mindfulness. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-011-0045-6

Ricarte, J. J., Ros, L., Latorre, J. M., & Beltrán, M. T. (2015). Mindfulness-Based intervention in a rural primary school: Effects on attention, concentration and mood. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy. https://doi.org/10.1521/ijct_2015_8_03