When it comes to developing emotional intelligence and resilience in children, I’m a big fan of repeated, consistent practice of strategies.
Skills are crucial… but the knowledge that accompanies it is no less so.
In fact, the written techniques that we use in the classroom, the meditation activities and the mindfulness-based activities, are only effective when interlaced with key pieces of knowledge.
Below are four knowledge hacks that I find myself repeating, again and again, with children older and younger:
Just because a thought comes into your head doesn’t mean it’s true: you might have a thought i.e. “I’m stupid/ugly/pathetic.” and because it’s so negative and cutting, we might listen and take in this thought, not stopping to question whether it’s trustworthy or reliable or helpful. As I tell the students, I might have a thought that I’ll tap-dance through the school canteen, wearing a onesie… but I’m probably not going to do that and this clearly isn’t a reliable, trustworthy or helpful thought. It’s useful to make comparisons like this, so that we can see that we do have some choice in terms of which thoughts we listen to, and which we ignore.
Switching your ‘I’s’ to ‘there’s’ can disarm negative thoughts: when we practice mindfulness, we strive to watch our thoughts from a distance. Let’s say we’re trying a ‘3 Minute Breathing Space’, noticing the weather in our mind in the same way that one might turn on a TV and just notice what channel is playing. Language plays an important role here in reinforcing that distance. Let’s say, for example, a child is feeling very angry. Rather than saying, “I’m angry,” they instead simply notice the thoughts/feelings and say, “there’s worry”. This small change can really loosen the grip that uncomfortable feelings have on us – it’s the difference between being in a thunderstorm and watching one.
It’s not the situation that’s to blame, it’s all about the Vicious Cycle: learning about how your thoughts/mindset feed into your feelings and behaviour is a real #gamechanger as far as I’m concerned. It’s incredibly empowering to know that even when things seem bleak and out of your control, you can still make a choice to see things from another angle; to alter the pictures in your mind; to adjust your body language; to just breathe. You can ride the waves, no matter how high or choppy.
Happiness is something you can find in small moments, daily: trapped on the hedonic treadmill, always waiting to have more likes and followers, the latest device or game, and the backside of an ‘influencer,’ many kids in junior and secondary schools cultivate daily unhappiness. Teaching kids about this concept allows them to recognise where they’re chasing happiness in all the wrong places. Furthermore, giving them a basic knowledge of mindfulness and gratitude, allows them to take note of the small, ordinary and wonderful ways in which we can find and create happiness each and every day.
Share these hacks with your students and/or children. If nothing else, it might help them to make a little more sense of their own mind.