Do you feel like you have trouble focusing? Are you struggling to stay present and engage with your surroundings?
Over the past decade or so, adults across the nation have increasingly looked to mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation, to ease the strain of modern living. As these practices have entered mainstream culture, they are rapidly finding a place in American classrooms. Mindfulness activities are immeasurably valuable, especially for kids like many of ours that struggle with attention deficits and trauma. We were thrilled when the Earth and Spirit Center of Louisville reached out to us to form a partnership with our After-School Program.
The partnership has finally come to fruition in the form of a weekly class for our middle school age students. In March, I had the opportunity to sit-in on the class and observe mindfulness education action. I was amazed to see our kids sitting peacefully in meditation and concentrating as they eased their way into yoga postures. Our kids are full of energy, so seeing them so still and focused was a moment of unexpected beauty in my day.
Adverse Childhood Experiences Can be Life-Altering
Many of the children that participate in our programs come to us with a high number of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, and ACEs change the way that children (and later adults) interact with the world around them every day. Individuals that have experienced violence are more likely to behave aggressively towards their peers. Uncertainty about food, housing, and security, can lead to depression and self-esteem issues. Anxiety related to adverse childhood experiences can manifest in a variety of ways from poor grades, to acting out in class, to frequent illness.
We all have ACEs that impact our lives to varying degrees, but the important thing to know about ACEs is that their effects are compounded. The more often a child experiences trauma, the harder it is to recover. Furthermore, ACEs are often passed down from parent to child. Parents that have not worked through their own ACEs may not be able to teach their children coping skills and are at high risk for inflicting ACEs on their children.
Mindfulness is especially valuable for kids that have a number of ACEs because it helps them learn to cope with negative emotions. As one instructor stated, “Mindfulness is forgiving other people, forgiving themselves, and loving themselves.” When practiced well, mindfulness can improve self-esteem and help children deal with negative feelings more productively. Like any skill, these practices need to be cultivated in order to be used in participant’s daily life. “You go to the gym to strengthen muscles. Mindfulness is a way to strengthen the mind. You learn to control the mind instead of letting it control you.”
“You go to the gym to strengthen muscles. Mindfulness is a way to strengthen the mind. You learn to control the mind instead of letting it control you.”
Control your mind instead of letting it control you. Can you imagine how different your life would be if you could learn to not engage disruptive, harmful thoughts? How many confrontations could be avoided by learning to choose how you behave towards others? For our kids, these survival skills are a life-line that can pull them out of the cycle of ACEs and prepare them to interact with the world more healthily.
We are grateful to the Earth and Spirit Center of Louisville for providing this invaluable experience for our kids. Armed with new coping strategies and better focus, our kids are one step closer to obtaining the skills necessary to grow into successful adults.