Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
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Introducing Mindfulness
Read It and Be With It
Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

Creating a space for your group that is calm and supportive allows them to take a break from the noise, confusion, and stress they experience in other parts of their lives. In addition to paying attention to your physical space, be intentional about the volume, tone, and pacing of the communication you are modeling for them.

Mindfulness activities can help group members build their emotional self-awareness. They may also help them process difficult feelings that arose in the session or while reading one of our stories, as well as the transition into/out of the group.

Share with the group that although mindfulness has many benefits, it can be challenging to do and takes practice. If teens are especially uncomfortable (which is common for people who have experienced trauma), invite them to modify the activity by lowering their eyes, but not closing them. Acknowledge that connecting to your feelings and being “in your body” can be stressful for many people. Encourage them to try, but also to take care of themselves. If the experience becomes too intense, teens can just sit quietly or move to a corner of the room and quietly stretch their body.

Directions:
1. Arrange your space so that you and teens are sitting in chairs, with your feet flat on the floor, away from desks and tables, and preferably in a circle. Lower the lights slightly if possible.

2. Invite teens to close their eyes and take several deep slow breaths with you, noticing as your and their breath goes in and out.

3. As teens continue to breathe, provide the following verbal guidance in a slow, calm, soft voice. Do just a few of the options below, adding a new one each time. If you notice the group losing focus, end early with a few more breaths.

  • Observe your breathing. Notice the air coming into your lungs and expanding them and then slowly moving out of your body.

  • Observe your five senses. Just notice sound, sight, taste, touch, smell.

  • Observe your thoughts and feelings as they come and go. Don’t push them away or hold on to them. Just notice.

  • In your mind, begin to describe your observations. Put words on the experience: “my stomach muscles are tightening.”

  • In your mind, give names to your feelings: “I am so mad I could scream.”
  • Label your thoughts as thoughts, not facts: “Thinking you’re dumb doesn’t mean that you are dumb.”

  • In your mind, observe and name your thoughts, feelings, and sensations separately.

  • After a few minutes of guided mindfulness, and before teens lose focus, close with a few focused breaths, in and out. Then welcome them back by asking them to open their eyes and return to the group.

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at ejohnson@youthcomm.org or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
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(AFY-06-03-2015)

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