Why mindfulness and trauma-informed teaching don’t always go together

January 29, 2019 | Mind/Shift

Mindfulness is a fast growing trend both in the world generally and in schools. Teachers are turning to the practice as a simple way to restore calm to the classroom, help students find some quiet space, and build self-regulation skills. Some teachers say their personal mindfulness practice has helped them respond more calmly to students and helps them keep perspective. But it’s also important to realize that some of the ways mindfulness is practiced — sitting still, eyes closed, in silence — can also be triggers for students who have experienced trauma.

“This isn’t about calming down,” said Sam Himelstein, a clinical psychologist, trainer and author who has spent most of his career working with incarcerated youth. “Calming down is great and it is a skill that youth can get better at. But if we’re talking about mindfulness, at its core, we are just talking about being present with whatever it is.”

Himelstein has worked with teachers who get upset when students don’t want to engage in mindfulness a certain way — perhaps they don’t want to close their eyes or won’t sit the recommended way. But none of those things are truly about mindfulness, Himelstein said. Forcing students to engage with the practice in prescribed ways may do more harm than good, especially if the student has experienced trauma.

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