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Tennyson teachers are using the MindUP program in classes this year to support the new School's Plan goal to "promote student well-being and learning using a holistic approach". The MindUP program provides students with skills aimed at improving a child's social and educational competence.
Molly Stewart Lawlor, primary author of the Mind Up Program, and a researcher at UBC, gave a presentation to parents following the PAC meeting on December 3rd entitled "Connected Families: Mindfulness Engagement for Families".
MindUP aims to develop self-regulation, which involves helping children learn to manage their emotions in order to improve their attention and behaviour to achieve goals. Studies have shown that children with higher levels of self-regulation perform better.
Molly advised that a child's mood impacts their ability to self-regulate. Children in a bad or sad mood have been found to not perform as well as they have more difficulty self-regulating. She noted that stress is the number one thing that may impair a person's ability and performance. The brain can be trained to have more self-regulation.
Core executive functions include cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control (self-regulation/self-control) and working memory. Complex executive functions include problem solving, reasoning and planning. A person's level of executive functioning is a strong predictor of school readiness.
What can we do to promote executive functioning in children?
- Molly noted the Montessori school approaches such as waiting your turn to participate in an activity and walking meditation promote executive functioning,
- Computer training such as the app Lumosity,
- Activities such as martial arts and yoga,
- Mindfulness training,
- Opportunities for free play
Molly discussed the continuum between depression and anxiety. Those at the depression end tend to dwell on the past, while those at the anxiety end of the continuum tend to worry about what is going to happen next. We need to try and help children consider new challenges as an opportunity rather than a threat.
The goal of mindfulness is to intentionally bring yourself into the moment and to focus on the present to promote positivity and optimism. The MindUP program uses breathing techniques and meditation to help train the child's brain to focus on the present.
Mindfulness training starts with educating the children on the various parts of the brain and the role they play in reactions and emotions. The brain’s response to stress is linked to the amygdala. When we’re calm, this filter is wide open and information flows to the prefrontal cortex. When we feel negative or stressed, our ability to think and make good decisions are inhibited. Information stays in the amygdala and doesn’t flow to the prefrontal cortex so we can think about how to react. Parents may hear children say they "flipped their lids", which means incoming information triggers the amygdala rather than the prefrontal cortex.
The MindUP program aims to help children build response flexibility to enable them to pause before they react. It also aims to promote resilience. A key way to boost resilience is to promote happiness. Molly advised that research has shown that happiness is related 50% to genetics, 10% to life circumstances (how rich or poor, where you live) and the remaining 40% to intentional activity. Molly recommended the book "The how of happiness". By Sonja Lyubominsky.
Molly spoke about what types of intentional activities promote happiness. Gratitude practice, making a list of the three things you are grateful for or that went right today, assists in rewiring the brain to look to the positive. Doing random acts of kindness for others also results in increasing happiness and peer acceptance.
Molly cautioned against using extrinsic rewards to encourage or promote desired actions as they can undermine altruistic tendencies in children. Studies have shown that giving children rewards for kindness does not result in more kindness. They also don't allow the child to experience the intrinsic or internal reward of doing good.
She recommended asking the child "how do you feel when you do something kind." Or "how do you think the other person feel when you do something kind for them?" She cautions against becoming praise junkies. Instead, focus on the behaviour or the effort for a job well done. She recommends author Alfie Cohen's work on praise to learn more.
The focus should be on the effort, so that children learn by experience. Effort is what matters, children need to learn that they have to work hard in order to succeed. Molly noted that children who are told they are smart from an early age can develop a fixed mindset, not taking risks so that they don't risk sacrificing their identity as "smart".
Molly provided a number of resources:
- Parenting from the Outside by Dan Siegel
- The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel
- The Conscious Parent by Shefal Tsabary
- 10 Mindful Minutes
- The Greater Good Newsletter from UC Berkley
She will also provide a copy of her PowerPoint presentation.