By Alicia Sisk
Parents invest a lot of energy in their children’s health — ensuring they eat fruits and vegetables, get regular check-ups and reach developmental milestones. But there’s something vitally important to a child’s wellness that may be overlooked: mental health.
Thursday, May 4, was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. To mark the occasion, members of The SOURCE spent the week visiting 16 second grade classrooms in Elkhart Community Schools to teach about mindfulness.
“Emotional wellbeing is essential to a child’s healthy development,” said Bonnie Raine, coordinator of The SOURCE, hosted by Oaklawn. The SOURCE is a multi-agency network of programs, services and supports for youth with mental health or behavioral challenges and their families. “Mindfulness is especially beneficial for school-age children because instead of being preoccupied with other thoughts, they can focus on learning.”
In a class of about 25 kids at Hawthorne Elementary, Oaklawn social worker Angie Lok described the importance of mindfulness — not thinking about the past or the future, but focusing on what’s going on right now.
“Most people don’t know it, but our thoughts are so powerful, because our thoughts control how we feel,” she explained.
She read the children a storybook about “peaceful piggies” who learn ways to calm themselves, like taking deep breaths.
The class also made a “mind jar,” a water bottle filled with glitter, sea shells, beads and fuzzy pompoms. Each child in the class selected one of the above items to represent how they were feeling. Once complete, students sat in a circle as Lok shook the bottle. Glitter swirled ferociously, the way feelings can swirl inside the mind, Lok explained. The class quietly watched everything in the bottle sink to the bottom until all was calm — the students included.
“Feelings are not good or bad,” Lok said, “they just are. It’s what we do with them and how we learn to manage them that matters.”