Dr Bernadette Carelse completed doctoral research on children’s experiences of learning mindfulness to help develop their attentional skills. In 2011, the initial findings were presented at the Mindfulness Now Conference, Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP), Bangor. In 2013, the research was presented as a poster at the CMRP Mindfulness in Society Conference. She has produced some publications on this work and related interests.
Introduction – The research explored children’s experiences of learning mindfulness to help develop their attentional skills. Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that may be developed by purposefully cultivating an open, curious attitude of acceptance with which to attend to events in the present moment. Numerous studies have found that mindfulness relates to improved attention and well-being and decreased depression. Furthermore, learning mindfulness may help adolescents with including attentional difficulties (van der Oord, Bogels, & Peijnenburg, 2012; Zylowska et al., 2008). Literature on children’s experiences of mindfulness and mindfulness in schools and for children with attentional difficulties was sparse, so the research focused on this area.
Methodology – A small-group Mindfulness-based Attention Training (MBAT) intervention was designed and implemented in a mainstream primary school. Each session included practising mindfulness and drawing or writing about the experience of doing so. The participants had been identified by school staff as having mild attentional difficulties. They were interviewed before and after the intervention. During each interview, the Child Acceptance and Mindfulness Measure (CAMM) was completed to explore potential changes in trait mindfulness. During the final interview, the children were asked about their experiences of state mindfulness, using their pictures as prompts.
Children’s experiences using the CAMM – While the CAMM provided background information to the participants and their attentional difficulties, it did not find a significant difference between the children’s scores of levels of mindfulness before and after the intervention.
Children’s experiences using IPA – The main focus of the research was to develop an understanding of the participants’ experiences of the state of mindfulness. The data from the interviews with the children was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Their experiences included feeling calm, relaxed and happy and becoming aware of detailed physical sensations and sounds. In addition during the mindfulness practices they recalled past events, mostly happy ones, and imaginary ones with positive associations. Their experiences also indicated emerging detachment from thought processes and included metaphors for awareness of the attentional processes and personalised strategies for developing skills in sustaining their attention on present moment events with kindness.
Discussion – The research produced a comprehensive description of the children’s experiences of state mindfulness, using drawings to aid recall and self-expression. There had been some qualitative, but not quantitative changes in levels of trait mindfulness. The participants’ had applied the practices in a range of ways, including in class to be better able to concentrate, sit still and focus on the teacher. Their views on teaching mindfulness, including that the body-scan practice was popular, use of metaphors was useful and support was needed for developing a personal practice.
Conclusion – The research speculated on how mindfulness may address attentional difficulties, such as distractibility, rumination and automaticity. It also evaluated the methodology and considered implications for using mindfulness in school settings and educational psychology practice. Overall, it research made a unique contribution to understanding children’s experiences of states of mindfulness and their views on applying and learning mindfulness practices.