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HeartMind e-News: Teach, Learn, Lead

A monthly publication dedicated to trauma-informed, compassionate school practices that help educators, students, and families move toward a sense of wholeness and well-being


Addressing Aggression with Mindfulness Practices

Hallie Williams, CEI Research Assistant

Prevalence of Aggression 

About 10 to 25 percent of preschool children engage in challenging behaviors—ranging from physical and verbal aggression to property destruction, major tantrums, self-injury, and noncompliance (Singh et al., 2013). Aggressive behaviors may present themselves as early as age four and lead to bullying or peer aggression—which are risk factors in children’s development (Saracho, 2016). Bullying negatively impacts both the students being bullied and those involved in taunting, intimidating, and harassing others. Bullying, for all involved, is linked with increased vulnerability to a range of mental health challenges later in the child’s life (Sigurdson et al., 2015). 


Unfortunately, many teachers do not have the expertise to prevent or resolve issues that lead to bullying and other challenging behaviors. When teachers spend more of their time trying to resolve disputes between students, they lose instructional time and may have difficulties reaching students and building positive relationships with students most in need of additional teacher support. This contributes to teacher burnout and attrition (Singh et al., 2013).  


Bullying and peer aggression are harmful to targets and perpetrators, and stressful to families and school staff, making urgent and thoughtful interventions paramount. Moreover, without intervention, bullying may escalate, contributing to a sense of shame, depression, and feelings of rejection and isolation. However, instruction informed by Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and mindfulness can decrease the overall number of negative interactions and change the classroom environment for the better (Singh et al., 2013).

Interventions that Build on Social and Emotional Skills 


Olivia Saracho, an early childhood researcher and professor at the University of Maryland, has experienced firsthand the successes of using interventions that build solid social relationships to combat bullying in young children’s school settings (2016).  Noting the influence of the school environment on bullying, peer victimization, and the effectiveness of preventive interventions, Saracho recommends teaching empathy and establishing a compassionate school environment that will help set positive social norms. She also recommends teacher trainings and discussions on bullying and victimization, as well as explicit bullying prevention programs that involve helping children enhance peer-relationships and social skills and learn empathy and how to identify and prevent bullying.   


While research suggests that bullying interventions and prevention methods are necessary, there are little concrete data on the impact of specific techniques (Duperval, 2019). However, studies on mindfulness suggest that mindfulness, when used consistently, supports social-emotional development and increases perspective-taking and positive bystander behaviors (Flook et al., 2015). When one nurtures a child’s developing capacity for empathy and compassion, the child will demonstrate more conscious and caring behaviors that protect themselves and their classmates from bullying (Duperval, 2019). 

Social-emotional self-regulation is as important as physical and cognitive development during early childhood (Bodrova & Leong, 2012). Supporting the social-emotional development of young children through mindfulness practices is a solution that helps prevent teacher burnout, increases student compassion, emotional regulation, kindness, self-regulation, focus, and serves as a protective factor against bullying (Singh et al., 2013). A few examples of classroom mindfulness-based interventions include the Early Heart Smart Program (EHS), mindfulness-based yoga, mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum (KC), social-emotional learning (SEL), and Mindfully Somatic Pedagogy. There are more resources at the end of this article as well. 


Working in a stressful classroom can make it challenging for an educator to always respond with compassion, though (Duperval, 2019). Mindfulness practices can facilitate calm classrooms, aid teachers in developing relationships with their students, and enhance their ability to respond to student needs instead of reacting; thus creating a safer classroom environment for everyone. 


The Benefits of Mindfulness, Yoga, and Meditation 


Mindfulness can be practiced through various methods such as meditation, yoga, and insight dialogue. Insight dialogue is the practice of combining self-meditation with the awareness of our interconnectedness (Insight Dialogue Community, 2023). 


Practicing mindfulness meditation may help young children learn how to regulate their emotions (Jones, 2018). Mindfulness meditation aids a person by nurturing them to view negative stimuli objectively. This decreases the intensity and attachment of these stimuli to negative emotions, and therefore reduces a person’s overall unhappiness when they encounter these stimuli (Jones, 2018; Duperval, 2019). Meditation and insight dialogue can enhance a person’s understanding and awareness of their own feelings and those of others, thus enabling a child to engage in more positive social interactions. The practices facilitate connections built on compassion and more appropriate reactions to stimuli (Jones, 2018). Lastly, yoga and mindfulness more generally offer young students a peaceful and compassionate classroom environment where they are free to explore and make mistakes, which in turn, improves teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships (Duperval, 2019). 


Still, the fact remains that not all teachers have training in or knowledge of mindfulness programs. In Singh et al.’s 2013 study, three classrooms experienced the positive impacts of a mindfulness intervention program. Each of the three classrooms had one teacher with varying levels of teaching experience, two teacher-aides, and six students ranging from ages 5-8. In all classrooms, researchers measured baselines of the frequency of maladaptive student behaviors and the quality of peer interactions before implementing a six-week mindfulness teacher training. After the program, researchers recorded significant increases in all three classrooms in student compliance with teacher requests, and significant decreases of student maladaptive behaviors and negative student-student interactions. Each of the three teachers, prior to the mindfulness trainings, had their own standard classroom management techniques but found that they used them less and less after their mindfulness training. Lastly, the three educators reflected that after implementing the mindfulness curriculum, they were able to be calm and present with a misbehaving child instead of deferring them to a teacher’s aide (Singh et al., 2013). 


The benefits of SEL and mindfulness are numerous, and various publications demonstrate this. However, all that remains is heavy implementation within school systems. One study showed that yoga can help support self-regulation (Razza et al., 2015), while another study used a kindness curriculum to enhance academic and prosocial outcomes (Flook et al., 2015). In addition, studies on perceived teacher stress and classroom environment propose that mindfulness interventions grant positive outcomes for not only students, but teachers as well (DiCarlo et al., 2020). Yoga also positively impacts students’ ability to focus and creates a relaxing escape from demanding school environments (Centeio et al., 2015). Overall, mindfulness-based physical activities like yoga may enable educators to build peaceful classrooms, reducing bullying perpetration, peer aggression, and student fighting (Centeio et al., 2015; Gaffney, Farrington, & Ttofi, 2019).  

Overall Classroom Impact 


If a student learns about complex emotions and how to express these adequately, it is more likely that as an adolescent or adult they will show greater emotional maturity (Nieminen & Sajaniemi, 2016). Furthermore, if an educator could work in a less stressful environment, there may be more space for one-on-one connection and understanding with students who act out instead of punishments; this encourages productive and reflexive dialogue that may aid in emotional regulation and decrease school-based anxiety and trauma. 


Low-cost and low-labor intensive programs such as mindfulness can positively impact teachers and young children (DiCarlo, et al., 2019). Mindfulness training for teachers effectively changed teacher-student interactions in desirable ways in research conducted by Singh and colleagues (2019). The positive effects of SEL and mindfulness programs are undeniable and benefit all members involved. It would be remiss to ignore these incentives and lose the wonderful and beneficial opportunities they offer.


Additional SEL Resources



Bierman, K. L., Nix, R. L., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., & Domitrovich, C. E. (2008). Executive functions and school readiness intervention: Impact, moderation, and mediation in the Head Start REDI program. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 821-843.  

Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2007). Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education (2nd ed.). Pearson Education/Merrill. 

Centeio, E. E., Whalen, L., Kulik, N., Thomas, E., & McCaughtry, N. (2015). Understanding stress and aggression behaviors among urban youth. Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy, 5(2). 

DiCarlo, C. F., Meaux, A. B., & LaBiche, E. H. (2020). Exploring mindfulness for perceived teacher stress and classroom climate. Early Childhood Education Journal, 48(4), 485-496.  

Duperval, B. (2019). Addressing early childhood bullying by supporting social-emotional skills with mindfulness. Mindfulness Studies Theses, 22

Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 44. 

Gaffney, H., Farrington, D. P., & Ttofi, M. M. (2019). Examining the effectiveness of school-bullying intervention programs globally: a Meta-analysis. International Journal of Bullying Prevention, 1(1), 14-31.  

Insight Dialogue Community. (2021). Guidelines - insight dialogue community.  

Jones, T. M. (2018). The effects of mindfulness meditation on emotion regulation, cognition and social skills. European Scientific Journal, 14(14), 18-32.  

Nieminen, S., & Sajaniemi, N. (2016). Mindful awareness in early childhood education. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 6(1), 9.  

Razza, R. A., Bergen-Cico, D., & Raymond, K. (2015). Enhancing preschoolers’ self-regulation via mindful yoga. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(2), 372-85.  

Riggs, N. R., Greenberg, M. T., Kusche, C. A., & Pentz, M. A. (2006). The mediational role of neurocognition in the behavioral outcomes of a social-emotional prevention program in elementary school students: Effects of the PATHS curriculum. Prevention Science, 7, 91-102. 

Saracho, O. N. (2016). Bullying prevention strategies in early childhood education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 45(4), 453-460.  

Sigurdson, J. F., Undheim, A. M., Wallander, J. L., Lydersen, S., & Sund, A. M. (2015). The long-term effects of being bullied or a bully in adolescence on externalizing and internalizing mental health problems in adulthood. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 9(1).  

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2013). Mindfulness training for teachers changes the behavior of their preschool students. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 211-233.