Disadvantaged students and mindfulness

Posted on July 28 2016

Children growing up in disadvantaged homes are more likely than their affluent classmates to be exposed to high stress environments. A few of these circumstances could include homelessness, exposure to violence, incarceration of friends or family members, abuse, neighborhood gun violence, or other difficult conditions. Much of the time, their basic needs aren’t being met and they navigate through their days trying to survive the way they’ve been taught outside of school. Many of these students are constantly on edge and feel that aggression and emotional outbursts are the only way to handle stressful situations.

Switching from their home environment to the school environment can be difficult, and lack of focus to academics is understandable. When students aren’t able to concentrate in class, the achievement gap can widen and typical academic intervention isn’t always the answer to close this gap.  Teaching strategies to help build their emotional and social well-being is a great place to start and where mindfulness comes in.

What can educators do to give their students the tools they need to build their self worth?

Teaching students to self-regulate and notice their emotions and how they react to positive or negative situations is an important aspect of living mindfully.  Many disadvantaged students have a very short reaction window between an action and a reaction and when a negative situation arises, they are quick to fight or take flight.  Teaching students calm-down strategies like focusing on their inhales and exhales, deep breathing, guided imagery, and recognizing their emotional triggers, can increase the reaction window and allows for wiser choices when responding.

As educators and community leaders, it’s important to recognize their struggles and teach strategies that can be used both in and out of the classroom.  Building a child’s self worth and emotional and social well-being through mindful exercises, can increase their academic performance and set them up for future success.


Written by Laura Zimmer, author of The Beginner's Mind Mindfulness Teaching Toolkit.  A mindfulness curriculum for elementary children.

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