School discipline can have a long-term effect on children’s lives, especially kids growing up in poor urban areas. Traditionally, the default response to kids getting in trouble is either detention or suspension. The former is mostly boring, and the latter disrupts education, making it harder for kids to keep up, and more likely that they’ll have more discipline problems.
This is especially bad for kids in cities like Palo Alto, California, where an estimated half of the children attending Cesar Chavez Academy are homeless. Studies have also shown that suspensions affect boys three times more than girls, and disproportionately target black children, who make up 19 percent of preschoolers, but get 47 percent of suspensions.
For schools in poor urban neighborhoods, finding alternative methods of discipline is essential. Some of these schools have begun to introduce meditation and other mindfulness practices to help students deal with their problems in ways that aren’t so disruptive.
At Robert W. Coleman Elementary in Baltimore, for example, kids aren’t sent to detention but to the Mindful Moment Room, where they sit through guided meditation or speak with counselors. This program is brought to the school in partnership with the nonprofit Holistic Life Foundation.
“We’re seeing kids being less impulsive, we’re seeing kids dealing with conflicts peacefully, we’re seeing kids learning to regulate their emotions in situations of heightened stress, and being responsive rather than reactive,” says Holistic Life co-founder Andres Gonzalez.
The goal of mindfulness programs is to help the children calm down and learn practices that can help them in other aspects of their lives. Schools with such programs have found that they’ve been suspending fewer kids, and have fewer discipline issues in general. The kids learn to manage their emotions so they don’t lash out as often and develop better stress management skills overall.
Stress management may not sound like a thing young children should be worried about, but children living in poor or dangerous neighborhoods, struggling with poverty or health issues, face significant amounts of stress. Studies have shown that this stress early in life can have lasting negative effects.
By helping kids in poor urban neighborhoods develop stress management techniques, which is a lot easier than the social change needed to fight poverty, schools can help mitigate the underlying problems which will take longer to fix.