Your four-year-old’s preschool has recently decided to bring in a yoga and mindfulness teacher for a special daily session. Excitedly, your child comes home to tell you about something new called belly breathing, and how she has been taught to carefully listen to the sound of a chimed bell. She then proceeds to show you that she can contort into animal poses and a “tree,” mentioning that these exercises can help her with balance and imagination. Perhaps you start to witness fewer meltdowns and volatile sibling battles, better resilience when waiting in check-out lines, and more equanimity in the face of brussel sprouts…
Is this the dream child you’ve tried negotiating for with your higher power throughout every manic temper tantrum? Not so fast.
Mindfulness, as often described to young children, is the practice of paying attention in a very special way. It teaches children to build an awareness of oneself, others, and one’s surroundings. Here’s a brief history on the topic: the mindfulness that you may hear about coming from your young one is most likely rooted in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a popular, scientifically-researched, secularized approach to Buddhist practices constructed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s. As a professor of medicine, Kabat-Zinn developed MBSR training to help his patients cope with psychological and psychosomatic problems. So what is it doing in your child’s preschool classroom? Well, studies report that practicing mindfulness may increase executive functioning and self-regulation skills, which is basically the mental processes that allow us to focus, plan, remember, and multi-task. Given that mindfulness is a “trainable” skill which improves the self-regulation and control most often associated with “school readiness,” teachers and parents are praising its ideology. However, despite discernible benefits, mindfulness practice in the early years may also cause some concern.
First off, take a moment to think about the underlying agenda of practicing mindfulness in schools: increasing “normalized” behavior, fewer emotional outbursts, teaching children to accept the frustration and hardships they endure, instead of taking a critical approach to understanding them. Essentially, mindfulness is being removed from its holistic roots in order to make sure your child behaves “normally” as the academic year progresses and decrease any stress caused by the increasing push-down of academic expectations and high-stakes assessment into the early years. Continue reading >>