By Jen Rapanos, LMSW, RCYT
We're half-way through our 12-week Wise Owl; Yoga & Mindfulness in Education program at Parkside Elementary and today we spent time learning about our thoughts. Our thoughts have a tendency of taking to take us out of the present moment and place us in the future (planning, anticipating, worrying); a lot of energy is spent thinking about things. And then we also have a habit of going back to the past (rehashing, ruminating) and revisiting events that have already passed. Our busy minds can leave us feeling quite exhausted. Just ask a room full of 5th graders if they have a hard time falling asleep at night. Most will agree that they have a hard time settling down and it's often because their minds are so active. Our thoughts are powerful and have a big impact on how we feel and behave.
So today we did a little experiment. We did our usual "check in." That's when we take time to quiet our bodies, become still and spend some time paying attention to what's happening on the inside. We become curious and notice how our bodies feel, we take note of our energy level and our attention span, and then we spend a few moments paying attention to our breath. Today, we became really curious about our thoughts. During our check in we spent additional time noticing where are thoughts take us; the results were interesting! Homework, upcoming projects, birthday parties this weekend, more homework, busy schedules after school, an argument with a friend, a grandpa who died, more homework, and several "I'm not good at this focusing thing" thought!
In both classes, most students agreed that they often have negative thoughts about themselves. (I'm not good enough, I'm stupid, I'm weak, I can't do it....) This opened up a beautiful dialogue about negative self-talk, what it is and what we can do with it. You see, if we're not mindful of it, we can't change it....we can't change what we're not aware of. So if that negative self-talk keeps repeating itself over and over again day after day, year after year, it becomes habit.
Today, these 5th graders learned that they can pay attention to their thoughts, and when they become mindful that their thoughts have carried them away they can now choose to bring their attention back to the present moment. This is a helpful strategy in the classroom and it takes a lot of practice, but that’s what mindfulness is-a practice. They also discovered that they can pay attention to where their thoughts take them and learn to pay closer attention to to how they talk to themselves. If they find they're engaging in negative self-talk, they can now choose to do something about it instead of ignore, push it away or learn to believe it! They can reframe those thoughts; they can challenge and replace those thoughts, they don't have to believe them because thoughts are just thoughts, they're not facts! A helpful statement we ended our class time with was "what would you tell a friend?" If we can begin relate to ourselves like we would to a friend, it can change the trajectory for how we treat ourselves across the lifespan. Instead of becoming our own work critic, we can learn to be self-compassionate. What an important life-skill to learn. This is such important work and I'm so grateful to be part of it! ~Jen
Jen Rapanos, LMSW, RCYT is a child and adolescent psychotherapist working in private practice. She is the owner of Well-Bean, LLC which is committed to providing services & programs that foster the emotional & mental well-being of youth. Well-Bean offers child & adolescent psychotherapy, yoga & mindfulness classes, wellness workshops and education & training for parents and educators.
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