What if your child had a superpower that could help him or her be a nicer friend, a better student, make wiser choices and calm down from stressful situations? Laurie Grossman and Angelina Alvarez (Manriquez), co-authors of Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress, believe mindfulness is that superpower.
“Kids having the ability to self-regulate, and to understand that is imperative,” Laurie says. “This is the most important tool that makes everything else work. If kids know how to calm down, then they know how to pay attention.”
Laurie and Angelina’s book stems from their passion for the topic and highlights their work with Mason Musumeci’s fifth-grade class at Reach Academy in East Oakland, California, and the journey that these students made while practicing mindfulness.
One technique used in the book is the Sharkfin, which is putting your hand in front of your face and slowly moving it down toward your chest. With your eyes closed and gentle breathing, you practice the five S’s: Sit up straight, sit still, sit silently, soft breathing and shut eyes. In the students’ own words, the book offers step-by-step instructions for mindful listening and breathing, including tips for specific situations such as bullying or problems at home.
“If we can get kids to practice daily, just like brushing your teeth prevents cavities, practicing mindfulness can help the ravages of stress to not accumulate,” Laurie says. “If we teach them a tool, despite the craziness that is going on around them, they can find their center and their strengths.”
If it were up to Laurie and Angelina, mindfulness would be part of every school's daily curriculum. “You can be really smart, but if you are thinking about what’s going on at home or if friends teased you, then you are not in the class with the teacher,” Laurie says. “What mindfulness does is it gets them in the class with the teacher.”
Most of the kids in Reach Academy are no strangers to stress. Laurie says mindfulness creates a gap between emotion and reaction, giving the children a chance to calm down and make better decisions. Now, their fists of fury unclench while their Sharkfins go up.
This not only makes life easier for the students and the teacher, but the knowledge of mindfulness creates a ripple effect that extends beyond the school. “What we are doing with awareness is creating space between what you feel and what you do,” Laurie says. “In that space lies freedom to choose how you will respond. That’s where the impulse control comes in. It is a proven stress reduction and it builds community.”