I’ve spent the past decade researching mindfulness-based approaches to social and emotional teaching and the potential impact on development and learning. My interest in this area stems from almost 20 year of serving young people in various contexts, as well as practicing mindfulness meditation.
I see the practice of mindfulness meditation as a powerful strategy for strengthening social and emotional intelligence and I’m not alone (1). At its essence mindfulness meditation is the practice of being more aware and awareness provides the foundation for social emotional intelligence. For example, emotional identification depends on the awareness of emotions. So does self-regulation, empathy, altruism and other critical skills (2). In other words, if we do not feel our bodies react to an event, circumstance, or another person we cannot identify our emotional state in that instance or how we might best respond.
Many traditional forms of mindfulness meditation are specifically designed to address core social and emotional competencies. For example, consider the Body Scan Meditation. Attending to bodily sensation has played an essential role in various mindfulness traditions (i.e Vipassana). By directing attention to various body parts practitioners strengthen awareness of physical sensations. In neurological terms, new pathways are formed linking feelings with thinking. As a result it becomes easier to sense changes in emotional states and respond appropriately. This may mean that mindfulness can help us eat before hanger (hunger + anger) sets in, just as it can help us recognize that someone else is hungry, grumpy, hurt, etc. and needs special attention.
Research suggests that it is possible to begin training basic forms of mindfulness awareness from an early age (3, 4). In fact it may be particular beneficial to begin early, as discussed in a previous blog post. The trick is understanding how to engage young practitioners, for whom more traditional forms of practice are beyond their reach. This is why my first offering through MYP is a preschool curriculum.
Ultimately my hope is that as young people grow in social and emotional intelligence they not only perform better at school but in life as well. This means they are better equipped to pay attention, care for themselves and others, make responsible decisions, develop resilience, and improve physical and psychological wellbeing. Integrating mindfulness practices as a key aspect of social and emotional education is a strong step towards turning this hope into a reality.
1) Vago, D. R., & Silbersweig, D. A. (2012). Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): A framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(296), 1-30.
2) Siegel, D.J. (2007). The Mindful Brain: Reflections and attunement in the cultivation of wellbeing. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.
3) Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B.M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., Ishijima, E., & Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.
4) Wass, S. V., Scerif, G., & Johnson, M. H. (2012). Training attentional control and working memory – is younger, better? Developmental Review, 32(4), 360-387.