This month we talk to mindfulness teacher Mary-Louise about her work with teachers and students, mindfulness at home, and the importance of self-compassion.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I teach mindfulness and positive psychology in schools to teachers, and pupils aged 5-18 years. I also work one-to-one with children and young people to support them with a range of issues, from focus and concentration to digital distraction and general confidence issues.
What are the main benefits of mindfulness?
For me one of the biggest benefits of mindfulness is that it helps us to be kinder to ourselves. The kind and curious attitude which you cultivate in mindfulness can help to relax self-critical thoughts that get in the way of performing at your best and building positive relationships with others.
Research shows that self-critics are much more likely to be anxious and depressed. They also have lower confidence in their abilities, so developing self-compassion is a great skill which will support us through life’s inevitable ups and downs. It’s more reliable than self-esteem, which is always dependent on how we are doing relative to others around us.
How can mindfulness help children – both at home and at school?
Mindfulness can help promote a growth mindset when it comes to life’s challenges. Rather than being harsh and critical in the face of failure, we are much more prepared to learn from mistakes and grow. This helps children and adults develop amazing resilience and an ability to bounce back in the face of adversity.
At home mindfulness can help parents with the demands of family life. It can support them to stay calm in a crisis and keep a sense of perspective. To avoid saying something they may regret and, most importantly, to be more connected to their children.
Why do you think more schools are introducing meditation into the classroom?
Schools recognise that wellbeing is intimately linked to academic performance. Mindfulness helps pupils and teachers be ready to learn, and helps everyone start the day from a calm and centred place.
Mindfulness is supported by robust research. It’s a proven intervention which is low cost, with no side effects. The increased evidence from neuroscience is reassuring, and shows that consistent practice of mindfulness can bring about actual changes to the brain – for example strengthening the part of the brain responsible for paying attention and making wise decisions. The good news is that the brain remains elastic throughout our lives, so attributes like empathy, happiness and optimism can be learnt.
What can parents do at home to promote mindfulness?
The best way for parents to promote mindfulness is to try it for themselves. Modelling the mindful attitude of patience, self-control, kindness and curiosity is more important than anything else. You can also try things as a family. I like mindfulness of technology; for example, having a family agreement to have no phones at certain times, so that parents and children can give each other their full attention. Our attention, and eye contact, are the greatest gifts that we can give anyone, and learning how to strengthen these – especially in today’s digitally distracted society – will serve us in many areas of life and contribute to our happiness.