Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mindfulness Through Technology

One of the hardest situations at a school can be trying to talk to a child when they are extremely upset.  Even after the tears and the crying and the yelling stops, it is still often difficult to go back to what happened to try and figure out a "why".

One day this fall when we were trying to parse this problem with a youngster who had calmed down but was still too upset to talk, I asked if he would be willing to close his eyes and let a lady talk to him for a few minutes.  I told him it might help him relax.  At that point I was thinking that what looked like anger and defiance was really anxiety around some issues in his classroom.  I happened to have an app on my phone called "".  He agreed, so I grabbed some headphones, started the 5 minute calm cycle, and popped them on his head.  By the time the five minutes were over, he had his head down on the table, and was almost asleep.  When it finished, he sat back up, and we started talking again.  This time I heard much more from him about what he was thinking and feeling than I had before.  Plus he was a good deal calmer.

Since then, I've used the app with several more youngsters.  In all cases, the app not only helps to calm the child down, it also helps them to open up - a benefit that I had not expected.  This week I had a young lady with me who was having tummy trouble.  She's in 4th grade.  She has a very difficult time talking about her feelings and often doesn't really seem to know what they are.  When I noticed that she was uncomfortable, we stopped working on what we were doing, and I asked if she wanted to try the app.  We went to the library, she sat in a comfy chair, and I started the 5 minute cycle.  When she finished she smiled at me and said she felt relaxed and sleepy.  She also told me her tummy felt better.  I told her I was glad.  As we were putting away the headphones, she looked at me and said, "Mrs. Seymour? "When I think about (x), I feel bad."  This was definitely a new level of self-awareness and disclosure.  At that point we were able to talk for several more minutes about that issue and were able to come up with a specific plan to help.  There are now 5 iPads in the library at school that have the app installed.  She can come in, grab an iPad and some headphones, and use the app herself.

I don't think there's anything special about this particular app - there are lots of mindfulness apps available for the iPad and iPhone, but I do like the fact that this one has several different background settings (it shows a setting or scene that you can watch while you listen), and has several different cycles or routines.  The basic ones are free.  This app is different from progressive relaxation - you are not consciously tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.  It is also not hypnosis.  There is no altered state with suggestions being added.  Rather, it's just focusing on your physical body in the here and now.

I am planning to write a grant to get some iTouches and headphones to have available for children who need them.  If I had more time at school, I think one of the things I would do next year is show all of the children in the building how to use the app.  Since we have iPads already in the building, the app could be installed on all of our devices and children could use them as needed.

If anyone has information on any research that has been done about using mindfulness in schools via technology, I'd really love to know about it.

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