Meditation hailed as important tool for teaching kids to cope with stress and anxiety
It might be a far cry from maths and science, but teaching children to de-stress has become such a valuable tool for some Australian teachers that they are arguing meditation, or mindfulness, should be part of the national curriculum.
The Queensland Education Department said about one in seven people aged from four to 17 experience a mental health issue every year across the country.
A report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute found up to one in four could be at risk.
There is growing concern about a possible anxiety epidemic in our schools, stemming from the combined pressures of social media, personal issues and the desire to get good marks.
Teachers at Brighton State School on Brisbane’s bayside are among a growing number of educators embedding meditation into their daily lesson plans to help children deal with their emotions and improve focus and behavior.
Year four teacher Kath Warren said it was making a big difference.
“Children that we would normally see be quite stressed or anxious … they’ll practice their mindfulness and straightaway they’re much more engaged and ready to learn,” she said.
Ms Warren and fellow teacher Sarah Mailey spend 10 minutes after lunch with their students listening to calming music and following a guided meditation track.
Ms Mailey introduced mindfulness into her classroom three years ago to give her students tools to “cope with life” which she said were not traditionally taught at school
“There are certain different social skills and self-regulation skills that are already in our curriculum, but it’s only a very small part … I feel like it needs to be something that’s touched on every single day,” Ms Mailey said.
The skills have also worked for some students at home.
Eight-year-old Henry said he sometimes used them at night to calm down.
“It helps me because sometimes at home I get stressed,” he said.
Another student, Abigail, said the skills helped with her anxiety.
“I do it and I talk about all my feelings with Mum,” she said.
The two Brighton teachers are rolling out a school-wide mindfulness strategy, and believe every classroom in Australia would benefit from something similar.
“Some teachers will say, ‘Who has the time’, but Kath and I always say, ‘Who doesn’t have the time?'” Ms Mailey said.
“Those are the social skills that really need to be explicitly taught rather than just incidental.”
Meditation included in federal mental health plan
For now, the practice remains optional for teachers, but it has received some backing from the federal Health Department.
Psychologist Addie Wooten, who heads up not-for-profit group Smiling Mind, said it was encouraging to see support for younger children as they were often “left out” of national funding.
“More than 50 per cent of mental health conditions actually have their onset before the age of 12, so if we can get in early and support young children … we can make a real difference to those stats,” she said.
Ms Wooten said tens of thousands of teachers were already using the Smiling Mind program across Australia, but that a national approach would be beneficial.
“We’re seeing an increasing rate of mental illness … we’re also seeing a rise in behavioral issues like bullying and disruptive behavior in the classroom, so I think that’s leading to teachers exploring how they can better support their students.
“Mindfulness being incorporated into the curriculum would be an amazing step forward in terms of endorsing an approach that is very positive and proactive.”
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