Middle school can be a stressful time for both students and parents. Today teens are dealing with the added pressures of this pandemic: erratic school schedules, relationships at a distance, a lack of peers and adults outside the home, a lack of sports and physical activity, a loss of their voice and choice in remote learning, often on top of family financial issues, and even illness.
Stress is a normal reaction to a challenge but being stressed-out is optional!
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a system of strategies to help deal with stress that have been proven effective for everyone – including middle school students. Mindfulness means paying careful attention to what is happening now and noticing when your attention drifts away. It is a state of constant awareness. Mindfulness has been around for 2,500 years and is used in schools nationwide. It is one of the most effective coping skills that teens can use to deal with stress, anxiety, and emotional processing.
Why do middle schoolers need mindfulness?
Middle school students are empowered when they understand their feelings and reactions to the world around them: why they feel angry, why they’re bothered when a friend doesn’t text them back, and why they get so distracted working on homework. Students who practice mindfulness and tune out distractions can be happier and perform better than students who don’t.
Mindfulness can help:
- Increase focus, attention, self-control, compassion, and happiness.
- Control our impulses.
- Improve memory, creativity, and self-esteem.
- Eliminate negative thoughts and feelings.
- Decrease levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Lead to better sleep.
How do you practice Mindfulness?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. All techniques are forms of meditation to achieve a state of alert and focused relaxation. Meditations should be short and simple. Set your phone timer for 2-3 minutes once a day and slowly work up to 15 minutes a day.
- Find a quiet place away from distractions.
- Sit or lie in a relaxed position.
- Play soothing music if you like.
- Close your eyes.
- Calm yourself with focused breathing.
- Breathe in for seven seconds, then breathe out for eleven seconds.
- When your mind starts to wander and think about something else, focus back on your breathing.
- Tune out distractions and focus on what is happening around you and inside of you.
- Observe what is happening, with a sense of curiosity without judging or labeling the moment Don’t try to make the moment different than it is – don’t try to change anything.
- Find joy in simple things. Practice an attitude of gratitude.
- Think of your mindfulness practice as a gift to yourself that will nourish you and help you access your inner resources.
How can I get my middle schooler to practice mindfulness?
Model it yourself. Emotional states are contagious. We can easily “catch” the agitation and stress of others. If you are stressed and reactive, that will impact your teen. Share your excitement about working on your mindfulness practice.
Focus on the good stuff. Teens often believe in the negative stream of self-critical thoughts in their heads. Have your teen challenge that negative voice in their heads and focus on positives by creating a gratitude journal. You can also challenge them to go through the day and record ten beautiful, helpful, or kind things.
Tech Refresh. Our devices distract us from real experiences. We suggest that your child “refresh their brain” with frequent breaks, a minimum of 20 minutes at a time, with NO technology, and reconnect to real-world experiences.
Mindfulness can be practiced in other ways. If meditation isn’t working, try other opportunities to focus on the present with curiosity and kindness. Try mindful coloring of intricate patterns or mandalas or mindful walking outside without earbuds noticing the smells and sounds along the way. Make sure it’s a positive experience that’s calm, relaxing, and something your student loves to do.
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