Strengthening Young Minds through Mindfulness

Posted on 09 October 2015 by Louise Carson

Teenage girl with dark hair smiling broadly

Mindfulness is increasingly being recognised as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, build emotional intelligence, and handle painful thoughts and feelings.

An innovative Mindfulness in Schools program is making a big impact on the lives of teenage students facing the challenges of school, growing up, and relationships. It is being run by MacKillop Family Services’ Early Intervention Placement Prevention team in Western Sydney.

Kerry Steele, Case Worker for MacKillop, initiated the course at nearby Chifley College in Bidwill in consultation with the school’s Student Support Officer.

Ten students from Year 10 took part in 18 sessions, run twice a week for 20 minutes on school grounds.

“Mindfulness is not just for adults”, said Kerry. “Mindfulness is helping children and teenagers take time out to consider what’s happening in their lives, to learn how to better manage their emotions, and reduce stress.”

“Teenagers are often all stuck in their heads constantly asking themselves things like – do I look OK, do people like me, does my hair look awful, do I have the right clothes?

“Mindfulness gives teens a break from all that noise in their heads which can cause stress and anxiety. The course also focuses on building empathy and what we call ‘heartfulness’. It’s about helping kids consider the situation of others and being kind. When we develop and strengthen our minds we increase our ability to focus, to recognise and manage our emotions, we can make better decisions and empathise in our relationships.”

According to Mindful Schools, the US organisation which runs online courses in mindfulness for teachers and youth workers, mindfulness is paying attention to our experience in a way that allows us to respond rather than react. It is a quality of inner-stillness that is always available, even when our life or circumstances feel out of our control or chaotic.

Difficult emotions like anger, fear, worry and stress actually release chemicals in our brain that prevent us from learning, and can make us react and say and do things we didn’t intend. Mindfulness helps us to better manage these emotions. It gives us space between the stimulus and the reaction to think about how to respond.

“The techniques practised are simple but designed to gently strengthen and develop young minds”, said Kerry.

All the students were asked to keep a journal where they could write or draw about the skills they learned and reflect on their feelings.

Some of the students comments included:

“I gained more confidence. I feel that it is easier to do things now.”

“I learned how to find my anchor and how to be mindful in difficult situations.”

“I gained skills to help me focus and deal with my emotions and situations in a better way.”

“I can now control my anger with deep breaths. I’ve learned new skills and how to be more productive.”

“Mindfulness can stop me from saying things I would regret.”

“I used mindfulness while I had my exams. It helped me to focus on the test and to forget everything else that popped into my head.”

Chifley College was so impressed with the results, the school plans to continue running the course with MacKillop. The hope is to offer Mindfulness to a whole class at a time, and to the whole of Year 11 in preparation for the stresses that being in Year 12 can bring.

For more information contact Kerry Steele, Case Worker at MacKillop Family Services on (02) 8881 4800.