Mindfulness- Finding Positivity at the End of the Day

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For humans, language is a powerful tool. It can evoke positive, neutral and negative emotions. We also can direct these emotions in others by the words we say and the syntax of those few words.

As a Headteacher/Principal for more than 10 years, there is a similar conversation I have with parents and teachers repeatedly.

Usually, the scenario of the child moaning and complaining about something that has happened as soon as the child walks out the school doors that leads to upset in the family for the evening. This conversation repeats day after day, upsetting the parent and feeding a negative loop of emotions to the point of a child telling their parents nothing good about the school day. When the parents tell the teacher, he/she is baffled as the child has not complained and, in fact, has had an extremely positive days filled with lots of success and praise.

So, what is going on here?

According to Professor Nass, co-authored, “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships” (Penguin 2010),
“The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres,” Generally, negative emotions involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.

Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, highlights in an article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” which appeared in The Review of General Psychology, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

Basically, at a very young age, we realise that when we tell our parents the more negative experiences that have happened in our day, no matter how small, our parents give us more emotional feedback than when we tell them our positive experiences.

So, how can we as both teachers and parents use mindfulness to change how we see the day that will lead to mentally healthier experiences and reactions and to a more peaceful school and home environment?

Teachers

End each day with a positive thought– Have each child tell the class what is one thing they have learned that day or what was the best part of their day in school before they leave for the day. As a class, celebrate the successes; clap, cheer, smile and congratulate the positives. These positive thoughts and emotions follow the children out the door and home.

This gives you, as a teacher, a sense of accomplishment and positive mindful reflection on the day. It allows you to enjoy the success of the day instead of only considering the things that didn’t go well. It gives the day balance.

For children, it begins to refocus the day and allows children to bask in the glow of positivity. It helps them to give the day balance.

Parents

When you see your child at the end of the school day be specific in your questions:
– What was the BEST thing about today?
– What is the BEST thing you saw today?
– What is the KINDEST thing you did or said today?

The key is to focus on the positive and explore and discuss this positive. Allow the conversation to grow about this positive experience. Ask for details (Who was with you when this happened?) , explore the emotions (How did you feel? Did you smile?) and encourage gratitude (Did you say thank you? How do you think they felt?).

If your child tries to divert to a negative, let them know you will listen to them about it but first you are going to enjoy the positives and discuss the positives.

Before bedtime, bring up these positives again. Allow the child to repeat and allow the positive emotions to be the last emotions they have as they go to sleep. One falls asleep and has a better sleep when they have positive thoughts to drift off to.

This gives both of you time to enjoy each other’s company and reinforce a mindful sense of gratitude that can lead to a more harmonious family life.

Does this mean a child should never tell a parent what did not go well? Not at all! What we are wanting to do is to help children to find a mindful balance in life and find happiness in being happy.

Please note:
Just asking your child, “How was your day?” Is a neutral statement and doesn’t drive a positive mindset. Emphasis needs to be positive language.

Eventually, as the habit of positivity develops, even a neutral question will have a child first reflecting on the positive. However, this does take time.

Find more mindfulness strategies for children and adults here: www.educationsvoice.wordpress.com or for more ideas for teachers, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness In The Classroom published by Bloomsbury. More information can be found here.

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Mindfulness In the Classroom – Mindful Language

Design

The highly respected psychiatrist, John H Reitman, once said that, “It takes an average person almost twice as long to understand a sentence that uses a negative approach than it does to understand a positive sentence”.

Everyday since most of us were about two years old we have spoken a countless number of words. It doesn’t matter which language we have spoken. Just the fact that we use words to convey our needs, wants, desires and emotions.

As a young child my parents taught me the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, far too quickly, I learned that words could be even more powerful than sticks and stones and that words could hurt the deep psyche that can leave lasting scars. Those lasting scars lead to powerful emotions for most of our lives.

As educators, we need to be even more mindful of our words and consider what we are saying and why we are saying.

Negative vs Positive

Negative language often:
* tells the person what cannot be done.
*  has a subtle tone of blame.
*  includes words like can’t, won’t, unable to, not to or don’t.
* emphasises the negative behaviour over the desired positive behaviour.
* does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences.
* Is ambiguous and doesn’t explain what you want them to do. “Don’t spill your drink! ” (How does a child not spill a drink?)

Positive language often:
* tells the person what can be done.
* suggests alternatives and choices available to the person.
* sounds helpful and encouraging rather than chastising.
* stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated.

Examples of Positive Mindful Language choices:

– ” Mary is making right choices.”
– “Remember Mary, we make the right choice.”
– “You have two choices.” ( Then give two positive choices which you are willing to compromise on to get the desired behaviour. It allows a child to feel in control but in a safe range.)
– “I wonder why Mary has hit John.”
– “I like it when Mary sits in her place when she comes into class.”
– “Mary, shut the door quietly.”
– “I can tell you are not happy right now. You are breathing fast, your face is red and you have tears in your eyes. Take some deep breaths with me.”
– Give a child time to calm down with other mindful strategies and then discuss what has happened and LISTEN to what they have to say. Ask guiding questions and repeat your appreciation for how it made them feel and refer to how it has made you feel.
– When having lengthier conversations with a child about their behaviour, end with restating what they did well.
– In the Classroom, end the day on a high note by giving a minute to everyone reflecting on what one positive thing happened that day. Let that be their “exit ticket” at home time.

It is also important for you to encourage kindness and positivity in the words the children use to speak to you and others. Give some time to practice HOW we say things, how we use our words and explore how that makes us feel.

At the end of the day, we must remember that positive language leads to positive self-esteem. If a person has positive self-esteem, than they are likely to have a more even temperament and a healthy balance of the stress hormone, cortisol. Negative self-esteem keeps a person at a heightened stress point with high levels of cortisol which keeps them in the constant moment of fight, flight or freeze.

How positive is your language? Challenge your class and yourself this week, change one thing you say in a negative way and make it a powerful positive phrase. Let the child’s actions speak for themselves.

Note: In addition to positive language, one must also consider the importance of body language. (To be outlined in another post shortly.)