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How a Meditation Practice Can Help Kids Become Less Anxious

The Power of Mindfulness

paradigmoct16_art2By now there’s a good chance you’ve heard the term “mindfulness.” It seems to be everywhere—touted as the new yoga, the answer to stress, the alternative to Xanax. But beyond the buzz, what is it? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the scientist and widely recognized father of contemporary, medically based mindfulness—over 30 years ago he developed a therapeutic meditation practice known as Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)—defines mindfulness simply as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

That’s the short version. To expand on that just a little, mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here and now—not what might have been or what you’re worried could be. The ultimate goal is to give you enough distance from disturbing thoughts and emotions to be able to observe them without immediately reacting to them.

In the last few years mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.

But how do you explain mindfulness to a five year-old? When she’s teaching mindfulness to children, Dr. Amy Saltzman, a holistic physician and mindfulness coach in Menlo Park, California, prefers not to define the word but rather to invite the child to feel the experience first—to find their “still, quiet place.”

Choosing behaviors

We begin by paying attention to breath.

“We begin by paying attention to breath,” she says. “The feeling of the expansion of the in-breath, the stillness between the in-breath and the out-breath. I invite them to rest in the space between the breaths. Then I explain that this still quiet place is always with us—when we’re sad, when we’re angry, excited, happy, frustrated. They can feel it in their bodies. And it becomes a felt experience of awareness. They can learn to observe their thoughts and feelings, and the biggest thing for me is they can begin to choose their behaviors.”

In her private practice, Saltzman, and her Still Quiet Place CDs for Young Children and Teens, teaches mindfulness to children and adolescents with a variety of challenges. “I work with kids individually with ADHD, with anxiety, depression, autism, anger management issues. The lovely thing about working one-on-one is you get to tailor what you offer to them.”

Saltzman also conducted a study in conjunction with researchers at Stanford University showing that after 8 weeks of mindfulness training, the fourth through sixth graders in the study had documented decreases in anxiety, and improvements in attention. They were less emotionally reactive and more able to handle daily challenges and choose their behavior.

Related: Mindfulness in the Classroom

As a teacher at The Nantucket New School where every student gets instruction in mindfulness, Allison Johnson has learned first hand what a difference it can make for kids. So she tried it at home. “I have a six-year-old son with ADHD,” she says. “I brought a chime home. We use it most nights before bed. ‘Cause he doesn’t love going to sleep. We sit on the floor facing each other, we close our eyes and we ring the chime. Sometimes we incorporate a visualization—like he’s floating on a cloud. We go on this little journey. And we ring the chime again and we say ‘when you can no longer hear the chime it’s time to open your eyes and come back to focus.’ And now if he gets in trouble and gets sent to his room, I can hear him upstairs doing it himself. Or when he’s getting unusually rowdy he’ll say ‘okay lets do our mindful breathing now.’” Johnson says since Curren started practicing mindfulness she’s seen subtle but noticeable differences in his behavior. “He’s more able to bring his focus and attention back to where they were—remembering to raise his hand and not move around so much.”

Mindfulness and teenagers

While the research on children and adolescents is really just beginning to gain real traction, there are several small studies showing that for kids who suffer from anxiety and ADHD, mindfulness can be especially helpful. Diana Winston, author of Wide Awake and the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awarene
ss Research Center, started taking teens with ADHD on retreats for what she calls “mindfulness intensive camp” back in 1993. Twenty years later the program is still going strong.

Get our email?Join our list and be among the first to know when we publish new articles. Get useful news and insights right in your inbox. “Teens benefit tremendously,” she says. “Kids talk about their lives being transformed. I remember one girl with ADD who’d been very depressed and I didn’t think we were reaching her. On the last day of class she came in and said, ‘everything is different. I was really depressed. My boyfriend broke up with me and it’s been so hard but I’m finally understanding that I’m not my thoughts.’ That concept is huge—the non-identifying with the negative thoughts and having a little more space and freedom in the midst of it.”

Stress reduction and self-acceptance are two of the major perks of mindfulness, benefits Winston says are particularly important during the drama and turmoil-filled teen years. “Emotional regulation, learning how to quiet one’s mind—those are invaluable skills.”

Managing anxiety

Randye Semple, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, has spent her career developing programs to teach anxious kids how to quiet their minds. “When I look at childhood anxiety I see an enormous problem and a precursor to other problems in adolescents and adults,” she says. “So I figured if we could manage the anxiety we could head off a lot of the other problems.” Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Anxious Children, the book she co-authored, is based on the program she developed. A study she and her co-author, clinical psychologist Jennifer Lee, conducted from 2000-2003 showed significant reductions in both anxiety and behavior problems in 8- to 12-year-olds in Harlem and Spanish Harlem who participated in the program.

Teaching mindfulness to children and adolescents is a growing trend—in private practices as part of therapy and increasingly as part of the curriculum in both Special Ed and General Ed classes throughout the country. “We’re at the beginning of a movement,” says Megan Cowan, co-founder and executive director of prog
rams at Mindful Schools in Oakland, California. “Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work really set the stage for mindfulness to be visible on a mainstream landscape. I think we all have the sense that society’s a little out of control. Education is a little out of control. We’re all looking for a way tochange that. This is meaningful to almost everybody.”

Juliann Garey is a journalist, novelist and clinical assistant professor at NYU. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Marie Claire; her novel, Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See, was an American Library Association award-winner and NPR Best Book of the Year in 2013.


Not Quite Burnt But Crispy Around the Edges

dr-william-demeoMindfulness & how it affects us and what we can do about it was the topic given by (“Dr. Bill”) at PSI’s Fall 2016 Conference at the Crowne Plaza in Independence, Ohio.   Without doubt, it seems the five-letter word everyone dreads most every day is stress. Using slides, video, numerous skits and literally working the room, Dr. Bill made the three-hour presentation consistently interesting, fun and a sharing group experience that united the large audience. Learning is easy when you laugh along the way!

About Dr. DeMeo

Dr. DeMeo, a neuropsychologist, said that about a fourth of all employees view their jobs as the number one stressor. It heads the list that includes fear of sickness, paying bills and keeping the car running. With the current national focus on obesity he added, “there’s a strong connection between weight gain and stress.” Each day we face 50-70 stressors with little or no idea how to handle them effectively. A chemical in the brain called cortisol gets released which increases blood pressure and can adversely affect the immune system.


The Presentation

Throughout the presentation, Dr. Bill had the audience form groups of two and three to interact with each another. In one, they would exchange how they handle stress. In another, a partner would tell two truths and one lie and ask the others which was which. With a third, each would show three things done over the weekend without speaking. There were seven skits in all, furnishing great fun, relaxation and acuity. This presentation had no dull moments!

Motivation is a key to avoiding stress.

To wit, if you can wake up to go to work most mornings without the alarm clock, things may well look good. Involvement can translate into commitment. On the flipside, Dr. DeMeo’s view is that “we in education are burning ourselves out.” Anxiety can lead to procrastination, which in turn can lead to a sense of hopelessness and depression. Stress morphs into distress.

As a neuropsychologist, Dr. DeMeo discussed the impact of stress on the brain and cardiovascular system. Neurons can cease to fire, with the heart rate speeding up. Smoking gets seen as a stress reducer. Research is showing many aging-related diseases are linked, even the yellow bands of DNA (telomeres). “We can create our own stress just by thinking!”

What to do?

Start with getting enough sleep at night, eight to ten hours. Exercise at least three times a week, each thirty minutes minimum. Maintain solid social support with those you trust. Avoid negative people who typically have glib solutions to everything. Finally, a positive mindset can be your driving force, for human resilience is a bellwether.  Mindfulness is key to managing stress.

Celebrate what you do right rather than be critical of what might be wrong. Everyone has a unique combination of strengths that can be built upon as a foundation to protect against the storms.

A growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset is what’s needed. List five strengths as your building blocks, along with the strengths you most admire in others. Pose the question: “Is what I’m about to do a reflection of who I am and who I want to be?” The answer can be the ultimate game changer.

Dr. Bill said that talking about yourself is a great way to reduce stress. In parallel, thinking positively about yourself can be just as good, perhaps even better.


VirtualPSI is here!

VirtualPSI launched on October 1, 2016! Yes it’s a Saturday but in the virtual world, learning doesn’t take a day off!

Our platform is interactive, it is clear, it is precise and it is user-friendly! Schools are turning their textbooks into chromebooks and turning their therapy to virtual!

Research has shown that online services are just as effective as in-person direct services. Therapists have reported better eye contact and better engagement from their students. Therapists who specialize in a unique areas are now more accessible. There is greater flexibility in scheduling, sessions can be recorded and replayed!

There will always be a need for in-person direct services as well as some students may not qualify for online therapy; however, online therapy is now more prevalent than ever in education!

VirtualPSI  is not a replacement of in-person services but a value-added program! A program that will lead to a greater reach of students, a program that will lead to a unique blended model for therapy and instruction, and a program that will lead to an expansion of our many other great programs currently in place!

Did you attend the TESOL Conference and want me information on additional websites? Click Here.

If you are interested in getting involved with VirtualPSI  please contact Mike Tornow, miketornow@psi-solutions.org or at (330) 425-8474. VirtualPSI first programs will be in Speech, OT and TESOL!

Webinar: Managing Concussions in Schools

Did you miss our informative webinar on Managing Concussions in School?   Click here to view on demand.With a focus that addresses concussions on and beyond the sports field, this webinar describes how to create and lead a school concussion management team and provides clear, non-technical information on how concussions can affect learning, mental health, and social-emotional functioning; tools for school-based concussion assessment; and guidelines for creating accommodation plans in collaboration with the family, community, and school team.  This webinar has passed but you can always review our webinars in our library.

In the Wake of the Most Recent National Violence

NASP, the National Association of School Psychologists, has released the following statement regarding the violence this past week. These are trying times for everyone, particularly those people living in the communities directly affected by such violence. While my heart is heavy, I am proud to be a school psychologist and serve as your president at time when the country and the children, families and schools we serve need our help more than ever.

We will be developing additional resources to help engage children and youth in productive discussions and positive actions in the days ahead.

For additional information and resources to help support children and youth, visit www.nasponline.org.

Melissa A. Reeves, PhD, NCSP
NASP President, 2016-2017

Dr. Scott Poland gives some practical advice on grief

In the wake of the tragic events that occurred in Orlando, many people are dealing with grief. You do not have to be directly involved with this incident, as seeing it on the news and hearing about it can bring up a person’s own life experiences, and with it, a sense of grief and despair. To help, Dr. Scott Poland,

A PSI Expert Partner and a professor in Nova Southeastern University ‘s Psychology Department, has put together some “tips” to help people deal with their grief as well as how parents should help their children understand these senseless acts.

You can read Dr. Poland’s advice online HERE .

Dr. Poland is also a nationally recognized expert on school crisis, youth violence, suicide intervention, self-injury, school safety, threat assessment, parenting and the delivery of psychological services in schools. Poland is a founding member of the National Emergency Assistance Team for the National Association of School Psychologists and serves as the Prevention Director for the American Association of Suicidology. He has led multiple national crisis teams following numerous school shootings and suicides and served as the team leader of the crisis response team sent to Jefferson County Public Schools during the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings.

In Honor of Sister Bernadette…..

2016-06-14_12-48-26We meet only a few very special people in our journey through life. I met such a lady close to 40 years ago when PSI was in its infancy. Sister M. Bernadette Maier, OSU, is perhaps the most remarkable woman I have met in my four decades of work with educators in Ohio. Certainly schools, and in particular the Catholic Schools, are full of wonderful people who are dedicated to their mission and give their all for the schools and the furtherance of Catholicity.

Sr. Bernadette did all that. In addition, she saw opportunity where there were obstacles, dreams where there were ‘roadblocks’ and strategies where there were almost insurmountable challenges. The non-public schools throughout Ohio but especially in the Cleveland Diocese, live her legacy every day when children benefit from services paid for by auxiliary services funds. These services didn’t just come to be by fiat. They were achieved by dint of hard work, vision, politics and endless blood, sweat and tears. Her stories and accomplishments are as voluminous as they are a study in political triumph.

She became dear to us over the years as we all strove to expand the services she wanted for ‘her kids.’ She was one of a kind, full of the vim and vigor that all movers and shakers have, changing the systems in which we live. She will live on in our hearts as an ideal to which we all should aspire, a tireless supporter of PSI and a dear, dear friend.

God Bless you Sr. Bernadette.


– Steve Rosenberg, President of PSI

PSI Crisis Management Services

PSI’S School Crisis Management Team (SCM) is available to help schools prevent manage and cope more effectively with the aftermath of school-wide and/or individual student emergencies or natural disasters. Our team has been trained by Dr. Scott Poland, a nationally known school crisis expert, former chairman and leading member of the National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT).

The PSI SCM Team will help your staff recognize the signs of suicide and learn strategies to optimize school safety. We assist your in-school crisis management and emergency response team to ensure immediate and positive action.

Mandarin Language News

PSI’s Hui-ying Lee
proudly presented her students at the National Chinese Honor Society induction ceremony at Walsh Jesuit High School in April. There were eight inductees this year and they are all Chinese 3 juniors.
The National Chinese Honor Society (NCHS) was established in November 1993 to recognize those accomplished high school students who study Chinese as a world language.
The National Chinese Honor Society is a scholastic organization that promotes and recognizes students with good citizenship, leadership, and deeds of community service.Mandarin Language Services

The National Chinese Honor Society’s goal is to encourage its members to become life-long learners to gain a better understanding of Chinese language and culture, and to play an active role as constructive peace-makers in the twenty-first century. The applicant must be a full time high school student who has studied Chinese fo four semesters in high school with an average of A- or higher. A qualified candidate is someone who is willing to work with the sponsor/advisor as well as with other students as a role model to play a positive role in Chinese studies. Hui-ying has continued to develop the Mandarin Language program at Walsh over several years and her efforts are producing some exemplary students. Congratulations to all!