Mindfulness taps the higher level functioning brain systems. These systems are responsible for thinking and reasoning. They also can control other parts of the brain. Teachers can use mindfulness to help trauma-affected youth regulate their stress response and generally keep their head in the game.
Mindfulness is a tool that teachers (yes teachers!) can use to help trauma-affected students develop self-regulation. Not sure why you would use mindfulness in your classroom? Keep reading to learn how a consistent mindfulness practice can help trauma-affected youth perform better in school.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is when you bring your attention to a specific thing and hold that attention, noting distractions but not following them. It can take sooo many forms! One of my favorite forms of mindfulness is visualization. In visualization, you listen to someone describing a scene and you visualize the scene in your mind. It's the best with students because, if you are making up the visualization, you can literally take them anywhere. I liked using visualization in my science classroom as a hook for learning by having students visualize themselves in space, in the eye of a hurricane, or underwater. You can also find visualizations easily on YouTube or in a meditation app. Other forms of mindfulness include mindful eating, mindful walking, or guided meditations focused on touch points in the body, body scans, or (perhaps the best known) focusing on the breathing.
How Does Mindfulness Help Trauma-Affected Youth?
Because mindfulness gets us honing our attention, it taps into the control center of the brain: the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is our conscious brain. It's the part of the brain responsible for things like self-control, planning, and organization. Activating the frontal lobe has the power to control lower parts of the brain responsible for heart rate, blood pressure, and impulsivity.
Children who have experienced trauma typically have overactive lower brains. That means that they have been in survival mode so often and for such extended periods of time that, especially when the trauma occurred early in life, they have over developed survival mechanisms and under developed higher order functions. They can be stuck in hyper arousal or prone to dissociating (shutting down). Things like self-regulation, planning, and attention may have not had the right amount of support to develop adequately compared to peers who had more appropriate environments.
Practicing mindfulness can literally rewire a student's brain to be less impulsive and more regulated. Be sure that the practice is consistent and repeated to be effective in this way. As I mentioned, whether it was a visualization of the insides of a tree or a simple body scan, I did a meditation with my students at the beginning of every science class. It might sound kind of weird and inappropriate but I worked with highly traumatized youth and the mindfulness practice made a marked improvement in their readiness to learn.
Mindfulness builds the attention and focus centers of the brain, giving us more control over our reactivity. Incorporate a consistent and repeated mindfulness practice in your classroom and help your trauma-affected students (and all students) improve their self-regulating behaviors. See improvements in academic achievement with strong focus and staying power.
Check out the video that inspired this post!
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.