Volume 3, Issue 4 | April 2023
Anxiety, Mindfulness, and Antiracism
HeartMind this month includes three articles on young children, anxiety, and mindfulness. Young children display their anxiety in numerous ways and it sometimes takes a bit of sleuthing to figure out that anxiety rather than a simple misbehavior is the culprit. In the first article with Jill Flanders, Christine Mason provides some guidelines for using mindfulness with young children and Jill lends her expertise by describing some children’s books that can address racism to help establish a better school climate and culture. In the second article with Meghan Wenzel, Dr. Mason and Meghan report on how racism negatively affects the lives of young children, including some statistics on children of various cultures. They end with concrete ideas for how educators can be the positive force children so very much need. The final article by Hallie Williams includes general suggestions for using mindfulness as a tool to counteract anxiety and aggression.
Featured Articles
Anxiety, Racism, and Young Children
Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director, and Jillayne Flanders, CEI Deputy Director
This is article #5 in CEI’s Anxiety and Dysregulation series which began in December 2022. In previous articles, we focused on techniques geared toward providing a general understanding of anxiety and how teachers and counselors can collaborate to help students. (See HeartMind eNews, December 2022 - March 2023). In this issue, we focus on anxiety in young children. 

What does anxiety look like in young children and how can teachers respond? While older children may voice their thoughts about their anxiety, young children who are anxious are more likely to act out, to show their anger or their pain, or to withdraw. In the classic example of separation anxiety, a preschool child who is anxious as a parent drops them off at a childcare setting cries and rushes to cling to the parent. In other cases, a child may display psychosomatic reactions including stomach aches or may cry easily, whine, tantrum, or lash out at others, seemingly without provocation. 

While some degree of anxiety in a variety of situations is normal, some children seem to be engulfed in a world of fear and anxiety. If you see this, here are some steps to take: 

  • See whether you can calm a child. With preschoolers, it may be holding the child in your lap during story time, speaking in calming voice, and providing words of reassurance. 
  • Think about partnering with parents, checking to see if the parent has observed the anxiety and if they have found an effective way to handle it. 
  • Consider whether the child may need “a protective, nurturing” adult to increase their sense of security. If so, review possible options for becoming or connecting them with a protective, nurturing adult. As a teacher, you may be able to provide prompts or scaffolding to help a child...

Racism's Multifaceted Impact on Young Children
Meghan Wenzel, CEI Senior Writer, and Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director
From police brutality against Blacks to anti-Asian sentiment during COVID to centuries old anti-semitism, racism and discrimination are unfortunately widespread and embedded features of modern American society. Deeply ingrained within American society are structural and cultural racism, interpersonal discrimination, and the inequities in public systems, all of which feed ongoing attitudes and actions that lead to intergenerational trauma and chronic stress for those experiencing racist discrimination, injustice, and inequities.

As Ibrahm Kendi says, despite long-held racist attitudes, “Racist power is not godly. Racist policies are not indestructible. Racial inequities are not inevitable. Racist ideas are not natural to the human mind” (2019, p. 238). Racist ideas are tied to a belief of White power and White supremacy, and an accompanying fear that if other races, ethnicities, and ideas gain power, Whites will lose their dominance. Today, we are seeing many Whites in positions of privilege and power working against movements to bring about greater equity and justice (Lempinen, 2022)...

Addressing Aggression with Mindfulness
Hallie Williams, CEI Research Assistant
About 10 to 25 percent of preschool children engage in challenging behaviors—ranging from physical and verbal aggression to property destruction, major tantrums, self-injury, and noncompliance (Singh et al., 2013). Aggressive behaviors may present themselves as early as age four and lead to bullying or peer aggression— which are risk factors in children’s development (Saracho, 2016). Bullying negatively impacts both the students being bullied and those involved in taunting, intimidating, and harassing others. Bullying, for all involved, is linked with increased vulnerability to a range of mental health challenges later in the child’s life (Sigurdson et al., 2015). 

Unfortunately, many teachers do not have the expertise to prevent or resolve issues that lead to bullying and other challenging behaviors. When teachers spend more of their time trying to resolve disputes between students, they lose instructional time and may have difficulties reaching students and building positive relationships with students most in need of additional teacher support. This contributes to teacher burnout and attrition (Singh et al., 2013).  

Bullying and peer aggression are harmful to targets and perpetrators, and stressful to families and school staff, making urgent and thoughtful intervention paramount. Moreover, without intervention, bullying may escalate, contributing to a sense of shame, depression, and feelings of rejection and isolation. However, instruction styles informed by Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and mindfulness can decrease the overall number of negative interactions and change the classroom environment for the better (Singh et al., 2013)...

Upcoming Events and Announcements
Compassionate School Leadership Academy

Feasibility Sessions for the Compassionate School Leadership Academy are being conducted in Michigan and Massachusetts.

If you would like your school to participate contact Dr. Christine Mason ([email protected]).
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Editor: Lauren Kiesel. Co-Editor: Meghan Wenzel