The Power of Modeling Behaviors: Mindfulness

by Christine Peace, Behavior Coach

While I was teaching a kids' yoga class the other day, I was awestruck when, without me specifically verbally instructing them to breathe, the students began, one by one, to each take deep, slow inhales through their nose as I was inhaling. I cannot express how excited I was. Although I had done this intentionally with teenagers and young adults, it wasn’t until this moment that I realized this practice was just as powerful with children.

We know that children learn behaviors from what they see. Kids are observant and will notice, whether we want them to or not. In fact, they are even more likely to repeat a modeled behavior if it is reinforced. So, consider this: if we are leading a mindfulness exercise and one student attempts to be funny by breathing rapidly, resulting in a reaction from multiple staff, this behavior may be reinforced from the attention. On the other hand, if we point out when students catch on to the mindful practice, calling to the strengths of each student, we are providing reinforcement for the behavior modeled.

However, the power of modeling mindfulness behaviors (or any behavior, for that matter!), is not only curated in-the-moment in front our students. It must be developed behind the scenes to be truly effective. It isn’t that our students are consciously believe we are “putting on a show”, but they are intuitive. If I personally haven’t taken time to practice my mindfulness in days, weeks, or even years, they can feel that difference. Subsequently, they are less likely to follow in suite. In a way, mindfulness is like an art – you can tell when someone is just making up the dance moves as they go along. Thus, when you are confident in your moves (or breath) it can be felt by onlookers; there is a different impact.

So, this begs the question, what are your mindfulness practices, outside the classroom or office? You could use any of the practices we have discussed in previous articles, and I encourage you to do so; but, perhaps you are interested in more. Skills can be easier for us to develop when we have accountability for building the mindfulness strategies, and this can be created in several ways. Perhaps, you have coworkers, family members, or friends with similar goals who can keep you accountable. Alternatively, if you aren’t finding support there, check out the variety of resources online. Try Googling “free mindfulness challenge” and you will see what I mean! You can also check out the list below with mindfulness apps:

1. Insight Timer

2. Headspace

3. Aura

4. Smiling Mind

5. Exhale

To get a deeper grasp on mindfulness, you’ll want to understand the basics. While there are differing perspectives of what all the foundations of mindfulness are, there is a consensus on a number of basic concepts. In particular, four foundational pieces can be remembered with the acronym SOAP, as taught by Dr. Ellis Edmunds. These are:

Separation of Thoughts

Observing Yourself

Acceptance of Emotions

Present Moment

Incorporating mindfulness into your day-to-day life, regardless of which foundational perspective you choose, is a practice in self-care and growth. It doesn’t matter if your practice looks like only 30 seconds a day; if that’s what gets you started, that’s more progress than no practice at all. I am not encouraging you to start these practices for your students or clients, but for yourself. The natural consequences will radiate out to those in your life.