Cultivating Mindfulness in Children

DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief

The hum of the air conditioner filled the room as six children sat quietly. Their eyes were closed, concentrating on the sounds surrounding them. Martha Mason quietly rang a gold singing bowl sitting next to her on the ground. The children slowly opened their eyes, focusing their attention on Mason.

“What did you hear?” Mason asked the group. One student mentioned hearing someone moving around on their cushion; another heard talking outside of the room.

Mason, director of the Education and Counseling Center (ECC) in the College of Education, facilitates a six-week-long mindfulness meditation course, called “Learning to Breathe,” for children ages seven to 12. It’s an opportunity to practice mindfulness in a welcoming and calm setting for 45 minutes each week.

Learning to breathe
Mason based the program on clinical psychologist Patricia C. Broderick’s work. Each class centers around a letter, spelling the word “breathe.” The letter “b,” for body, is the focus of the first class. Mason, with the help of DePaul graduate student Megan Cassidy, led a recent group of students through three activities, directing their attention to individual senses.

After listening closely to the sounds of the room, the children were offered a plate of fruit snacks. Mason asked the children not to eat the treat yet. “Just hold it,” Mason instructed the students. “Look at it like you have never seen a fruit snack before. Hold it to the light. Does it change?”

College of Education

Dylan Fulbright holds a fruit snack up to the light during a mindfulness exercise at the Education and Counseling Center in the College of Education. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

Six students stretched their arms to the sky, gazing at their fruit snack. They noticed the bumpy shape and squishy nature of the treat. A student held the snack up to his ear, noticing how it squeaked when he squeezed it.

“Now that you have observed the fruit snack, go ahead and eat it,” Mason said. “Notice how it tastes and feels.” The children began to chew, scrunching their eyebrows together as they concentrated on the texture, feeling and taste of the snack.

“Would you like another one?” Mason asked. The children grinned, motioning for another piece.

Learning to be mindful
Before the session, Mason talked about the juxtaposition of mindfulness and children. The students, from different elementary schools around the city, had been experiencing various areas of difficulty, such as test-taking anxiety, low self-esteem or problems with peer interaction.

Martha Mason

Mason leads a meditation class to introduce children to mindfulness practices such as breathing and observation. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

Studies have proven that mindfulness can strengthen attention, regulate emotion and enhance stress- and anxiety-management skills, especially when it comes to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and anxiety.

“Mindfulness promotes attention and concentration,” Mason says. “The purpose is to pay attention to the present moment, being curious in the moment and open to the moment without judgement.”

Mason is particularly interested in implementing mindfulness programs for children because they are curious and willing to try new things. By learning to practice mindfulness at a young age, children develop skills to help them deal with stress and anxiety throughout their lifetimes. “Parents [of children in the course] should be able to see better sleeping and coping habits,” Mason says. “They should notice their kids communicating more about their feelings.”

For more information, please contact the Education and Counseling Center at eec@depaul.edu.

Reprinted and edited with permission from Newsline.

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