A Guest Blog from AUNE Mindfulness for Educators M.Ed Student, Laura Eldridge
“Mel”, a second grader, and I have spent the last 6 months working together to give him skills that will allow him to be successful during unstructured times in his classroom, specifically snack and lunch. We began having mindful lunches in November after he made several visits to the behavior program I’m in charge of in an elementary school. He was sent to me because he was finding it difficult to navigate the social expectations of these less structured times of day with his peers. He was doing things that gave people “weird thoughts” (a phrase from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking program) and acting in ways that were unexpected for a second grader (playing with his food, saying strange things, making unusual noises, interrupting people during conversations, etc.). These were some pretty ingrained habits for Mel and I knew it would take some work to help him move away from them.
During our mindful lunches, over the course of several months, Mel came to eat lunch in my office daily. We created a ritual that included deep breathing and body scans, and in a way that seemed natural for him. He’s used to me asking lots of questions and wasn’t at all bothered when I asked him how his various parts were feeling. We had a list written on paper and every day I would write his answers down. When he began giving the same answers for a couple of days, I’d refer to the papers from the past few days and remind him of what he said and that it seemed he wasn’t giving much attention to how he was really feeling at that moment. Over the course of those months, he learned, through this daily practice, to really tune in to how his body was feeling and to contemplate why it might be feeling that way. His head hurt because he couldn’t stop thinking about something his brother had done the night before. His heart was beating fast because it was his first time inviting a guest for mindful lunch and sharing thing practice we’d held so sacred. His heart also beat fast and he was breathing fast when we began talking about him having lunch in the classroom again. He was feeling nervous about it. This was the first time that he connected our practice to the changes he’d made in his behavior. He something to the effect of, “Hey! All of these mindful lunches made it so I know what to do when I have lunch in my classroom!” “You do know what to do, ‘Mel’, and I know you’re going be just fine there, “ I replied.
When he felt ready to have lunch in his classroom again, I went to his classroom to have lunch with him the first day. I sat at a different table the second day, away from him, but within his visual range. The third day, I came in late (intentionally) and he was chatting away at a table with his teacher and some classmates. He didn’t see me, so I snuck back out. Later that day, I told him I’d seen him doing a great job and I didn’t feel he needed me in there for lunch any more. “I got this, Mrs. Eldridge! I got this!” he said, putting his hand up as if to stop me.
Through mindfulness, Mel has been able to tune in to the way his body reacts to his experiences. He has been able to examine those responses and make changes in his behavior that make him successful in his classroom during lunch and snack times. The habits that make him look and act in unexpected ways around his peers are mostly a thing of the past.. By working with him to help him be aware of how he is feeling inside, he has been able to return to his classroom for the less structured times that caused him a great deal of anxiety which, in turn, caused him to make unexpected choices and get him into trouble. He is beginning to see that there is a different way to do things that he can be comfortable with and successful in doing that are expected and typical of kids his age. He is learning to make wise decisions based on what he notices in his body and the way he is reacting to things going on around him. He’s been successful in his classroom at lunchtime for a few weeks now, with no issues at all. This is all due to the mindfulness practice we established together. It’s simply magical!