Bringing Mindfulness to Children and Schools: An Interview with Holistic Life Foundation

mindful schoolsOur kids are our future and nowadays we are seeing them in them higher states of anxiety, impulsivity and other behavioral problems. In recent years mindfulness has been shown as an effective approach for children in lower stress and anxiety and even increasing states of feeling well. Susan Kaiser Greenland wrote The Mindful Child, I did an interview with Meg Cowan on her work with Mindful Schools, and Goldie Hawn has successfully started and organization called Mind Up. There is another very special organization started by two brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their friend Andres Gonzalez called Holistic Life Foundation. The three men made a choice to move back to their hometown and make a difference helping the kids transform their lives.

Today Ali, Atman and Andres talk to us about how mindfulness is helpful for behavioral problems, some key practices they have found to make a difference, why it’s important to help kids lead, and some advice for parents and teachers. Ali, Atman and Andres will be speaking at the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in San Diego, Ca Feb 1-3, 2013.

Elisha: How is mindfulness helpful with kids who are impulsive, prone to behavioral problems and anger issues?

Ali, Atman and Andres: The first thing that mindfulness gives these kids is awareness. Most of the kids we work with who act impulsively, have behavior issues, and anger issues aren’t even aware of what’s going on, they are just instantly reacting to the things that go on around them and inside of them. Mindfulness helps them get in touch with their thoughts, emotions, and energy. Once the kids are aware of these things then they can learn to deal with impulsivity, behavior issues, and anger issues. One of the greatest things that mindfulness gives them is the ability to have that split second of reflection before they act.

Elisha: What are some key practices that are helpful to kids, what differences are you seeing?

Ali, Atman and Andres: Meditation and breathing are two of the practices that have the greatest impact on the kids. The breath work gives them a base and a center that they can always go back to. It helps regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It also gives them a tool they can use in any situation and in any environment. The meditation gives the kids a sense of inner peace. Many of them live in environments where finding peace outside of them (in their homes and communities) may not be possible, so having a place inside of them that they now they can always go to for peace and serenity is very liberating and empowering. Meditation and breathing are two invaluable tools to be able to give kids so that they have the ability to be present.

Elisha: I hear you actually get kids to eventually lead these practices themselves. What effect does this have for them?

Ali, Atman and Andres: The kids take more ownership of the practices and are a lot more engaged. They know they have to be able to demonstrate, teach, and explain the benefits of whatever it is they are interested in teaching to their peers before they are allowed to. They pay closer attention to what is being said when we are teaching them and soak up everything. With this knowledge the kids are more likely to take these practices home with them, incorporate them into their lives, and teach people in their families, because they have a thorough understanding of the practices we are showing them. This helps to manage behavior as well, because kids know that if they do not model good behavior they will not get a chance to lead the practices. It also builds self-esteem, confidence, and leadership in the kids. The other thing it really helps develop in the students is compassion. Some kids when teaching, may yell at one of their peers for not doing something correctly their first time teaching, but we always ask them is that how we talk to them when teaching and is that what a good teacher does. We remind them that a good teacher is nurturing and supportive, and builds up their students. They begin to understand and practice compassion with their peers when teaching and it spills over into all of their interactions with others.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from a parent or teacher right now, what advice would you give them for working with kids?

Ali, Atman and Andres: Have your own practice and meet the kids where they are. You have to have your own mindfulness practice to teach mindfulness to kids. Kids are very honest and observant if you are trying to teach them things that you are not modeling in your own life, they will pick up on it and you will definitely get called on it. So take the time to develop your won mindfulness practice it will not only help you model it for the kids, but will also make you more compassionate and effective when teaching them. Always meet your students where they are and listen to them. You may have a great idea for what they need and how to teach it to them, but that might not be where they are at that time. Have the flexibility to throw things out the window at the drop of a dime and work from where your students are.

Elisha: Thank you Ali, Atman and Andres for your incredible work and inspiration. You’re making the future a brighter place.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Teacher and student photo available from Shutterstock

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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