How to Teach Trauma-Informed Mindfulness to Kids
While every student, classroom, and school is different, research shows many benefits of teaching trauma-informed mindfulness in your classroom. Like any classroom intervention, there are ways to differentiate and make accommodations to meet the needs of different students.
In this blog, we’ll provide teachers with six tips on making mindfulness an inclusive, trauma-informed practice in your classroom:
- Provide students with mindfulness options;
- Consider your students' backgrounds and needs;
- Create a trauma-informed mindfulness routine;
- Incorporate a multimodal approach;
- Encourage teacher & student ownership;
- Empower children as co-creators.
1. Provide students with mindfulness options
When bringing mindfulness into your classroom, tell students that they can choose to participate, or do something else. This could include observing, putting their head down, or reading quietly. If they choose to participate, offer them a choice in closing their eyes or keeping them open. As a trauma-informed best practice, if they choose to close their eyes, let them know that you will keep your eyes open.
Along these same lines, allow students to pick their own seats for mindfulness. For example, they could choose between sitting with their backs on a wall, laying down on the carpet, or staying at their desk. This is a trauma-informed mindfulness practice to give students power and choice when determining where they would like to sit for a moment. Some students with sensory processing disorders and some who have experienced trauma may not like to have their backs towards the door.
Provide options and always, always remind students mindfulness is optional.
2. Consider your students’ backgrounds and needs
While this may seem obvious, make sure you have a sense of your students, their backgrounds, and their needs. Some classroom interventions might work great for some students, like dimming the lights when working with students with sensory processing disorders to reduce overstimulation. However, this same practice of dimming the lights may be a trigger for a student who has experienced childhood trauma. Mindfulness activities that ask students to hold their breath may help calm a student’s nervous system while others may create a sense of panic. Bottom line, know what helps and what triggers your students.
Additionally, knowing what your students are interested in and enjoy will make your mindfulness activities more fun. A common breathing technique called Ocean Breath can help students focus and relieve stress. This same breath can be taught as a Darth Vader breath to students who enjoy Star Wars. Adding in fun connections to students’ interests will only increase participation and enthusiasm for the mindfulness you bring. Or, try some other trauma-informed mindfulness practices such as internal and external monitoring.
3. Create a trauma-informed mindfulness routine
While offering choice, flexible seating, and accommodations is key, structure and routine are equally as critical in creating an inclusive classroom. As a trauma-informed mindfulness approach, start with a set time during your day when students can expect to be doing and learning mindfulness. This can be a few moments in the morning during check-in or maybe after lunchtime when the classroom energy is high. As students get more comfortable with mindfulness in their schedule, add some breathing and calming activities throughout the day. Some personal favorite times are before and after transitions to specials!
Students participating in trauma-informed mindfulness activities in their classroom
4. Incorporate a multimodal approach
When you hear mindfulness, you may think of a cross-legged yogi sitting on a mountain top, eyes closed, pointer finger touching thumbs, resting their hands on their knees. This structured meditation may be a great practice for some, but not for restless kids under 12! Using multi-modal learning, we can teach awareness through music, movement, dance, art, and games. In fact, just like academics, students learn new emotional skills best when they use all five senses.
5. Encourage teacher and student ownership
Most kids go through their days listening to grown-ups tell them what to do, where to go, and how to act. What if the students in your classroom got to chose their own mindfulness adventure? Our K-8 curriculum provides scripted stress-reduction activities, led by children and adults. We also offer audio recordings of “mindful moments” read by an actual student, so that kids can model after other kids. Research shows that students learn best by doing, not by just listening.
6. Empower Children as Co-Creators
Dr. Darlene Sampson, a pioneer in equity & inclusion in education, introduced our team to student-led Social Emotional Learning (SEL). This culturally responsive pedagogy gives kids the choice to name, design, and plan their own SEL. For example, some students changed “mindfulness” to “calming time” or “let’s chill.” When children feel empowered as co-creators, awareness practices are more likely to last outside of the classroom. Let your class make it their own and be there to support the process, not lead it.