Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mindfulness Helps Children Regulate Stress by Kim Dulcetto, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Cites Kathryn Shea CEO of Florida Center for Early Childhood

"Making play-dough or listening during storytime may not seem to demand much brain power, but for some children pre-kindergarten can be just as daunting as meeting deadlines at the office.

That’s why early learning educators at the Florida Center for Early Childhood urge kids to take a break and smell cookies.

It’s part of a breathing exercise included in the “brain break” — a thoughtful pause during which the kids, summoned by the soft ring of chimes, gather to lay on the ground and focus on their breathing by holding an imaginary cookie to their nose to “smell” it, deeply inhaling and exhaling into their small palms.

Typically observed two to three times a day in class with kids as young as 3, “it’s a break that helps mitigate anxiety and practice self-regulation. We’ve found that since implementing these techniques, our behavior reports are better and the kids are more self-aware,” Katrhyn Shea, president and CEO of the Center, said.

The nonprofit organization provides therapeutic services, clinical interventions, prevention and early education programs for approximately 2,500 children and families annually in Sarasota, Manatee, Desoto, Hardy and Charlotte counties.

Eight years ago, Shea scoured the internet to find tools that might alleviate stress for both students and staff. That’s when she came across MindUp, a program that helps schools and organizations implement techniques that mitigate stress through mindfulness.

Much of the research behind Mindup is based on neuroscience, but at its core, “it’s really about being in the moment, in the now,” Shea said.

During the brain breaks, teachers also lead the children in positive visualization, along with breathing exercises. They tell them to imagine a light that begins at the top of their heads and slowly travels down their body, through limbs and down to toes, spreading a warm glow.

Parenting tips

• Lead short breathing exercises at home in a quiet room and focus on inhaling and exhaling into your hand. Observe the flow of air on your palm.

• Play games that require concentration and remembering the rules such as I Spy, Red Light/Green Light and Simon Says.

• Observe ways that help your baby or toddler gain control, like turning the lights off and on.

• Help children come up with their own plans for dealing with temptations and distractions.

• Help children set goals and follow through on them.

• Read stories in a stimulating way that encourages listening, focus and remembering, like listening to a favorite song and repeating it together.

• Attend a Mind in the Making workshop to learn more.

It’s time put aside to quiet the mind, pay attention to the present and experience feelings without stopping them.

Shea said the deep-breathing mimics physical self-regulation and the exercices can create a point of reference to vent anxious feelings that might otherwise collect and fester.

“The mindfulness techniques give them permission to have feelings and express with words instead of physically. It’s especially helpful with kids who have sensory issues,” she said.

Increasingly, programs like MindUp are part of the move to bring self-regulation tools into early-learning spaces.

Like MindUp, the Mind in the Making program teaches any individual or organization that works with children, including parents, educators and nonprofit leaders, a similar skillset.

Modeled after the book “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” by Ellen Galinsky, a leader in child development, the Mind in the Making program teaches life skills to adults who will pass them on to children.

One of the seven essential skills includes focus and self control, and applying such concepts to developing children is shown to reduce behavior problems and increase academic outcomes.

“It should be as basic as numbers and letters. If you can’t self-regulate, a high IQ doesn’t matter,” Shea said. "

This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and The Patterson Foundation to cover issues surrounding the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. More than 300 communities around the country are part of the campaign, which is an effort to have all children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

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