Boys will be Boys Mindful


How can we help mindfulness resonate with young boys, especially if they’re bored, resistant, or suspicious of their feelings?

We spoke to Gavin Hughes, Year 5 teacher at Wellesley College, Lower Hutt, who has been teaching Pause Breathe Smile for eight years, most of that time been exclusively to boys. Gavin brings a guy’s perspective as someone who has uses mindfulness personally. He also knows all too well the challenges that Kiwi boys and men face with their mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Gavin was profoundly impacted by the death of his mother when Gavin was just 13 years old. Back then, there weren’t many men talking openly about their feelings and how they’re reallydoing. Initially he quashed the feelings and grief; it was only when he had children of his own that he spoke with a professional about processing his loss.

Now teaching at a boys’ school, Gavin takes seriously his position to be a role model and to combat the widespread mental health challenges that Kiwi men face.

Being transparent about his own experiences with stress, emotions, and anxiety, both from the past and current, is part of how Gavin gets his Wellesley students to ‘buy in’ to mindfulness. “I want them to see it isn’t just something you do at school. It’s something adults use and that it’s beneficial for them over time, not just at school and in this class,” says Gavin.

To get hesitant or resistant boys to see the value of becoming more aware of their feelings and thoughts, Gavin draws them in with the idea of a challenge.

“I tell them that to sit and focus your mind on your breathing is a challenge—a hard thing to do, not natural to do,” explains Gavin. For instance, they might hear a distracting sound like a basketball bouncing, a door slamming, or voices in the corridor, but he encourages them to “hear and see things as a distraction that’s trying to pull you away.” It’s a “competition within themselves.”

Gavin sees major benefits for his students from using mindfulness. One student would get very frustrated and would yell and scream as an outlet, unable to regulate his big emotions. Eventually, with Pause Breathe Smile and some extra work with him, this boy learned to recognize his triggers and “when his emotions were taking over.” He had learned some “skills to sit down and do his breathing or go for a walk, hold a leaf in his hand and examine it,” says Gavin proudly. “Seeing him get that was one of the best moments of my work with Pause Breathe Smile.”

Gavin’s stories from using Pause Breathe Smile with his boys are reiterated in findings from an independent research study of PBS schools.

Three out of 4 teachers in the study said that Pause Breathe Smile had helped their male students better describe their feelings and understand the feelings of others, the core of empathy. The Ihi research study, which captured the thoughts of 143 teachers and 58 children, found that PBS strengthened schools’ “cultures of care,” positively impacting classrooms, playgrounds, staffrooms, and beyond.

In the past few decades, much has changed for guys in recognizing the importance of noticing and talking about their lives and emotions. “A lot of men are starting to talk about their feelings. When I go out with friends, go for a mountain bike ride, it’s become normal to talk about challenges and things that aren’t going so well,” says Gavin. It’s “important for [my students] to see that as something masculine, that it’s something everyone should be doing,” not just girls and women.

“It’s about looking after yourself and if you are sad or mad you can make yourself peaceful.”
– Year 3 Tamariki

Gavin remains committed to using mindfulness in his own life and with his students at Wellesley College. “We’re making inroads in NZ mental health but not to the extent that we need to,” says Gavin. “I’m going to go carry on with my practice of role modelling and promoting mindfulness in the school, because it’s important to do something to actually address the problem we’ve got in NZ” with mental health in boys and men.

Here are our Term 3 ads and advertorial coverage with a focus on the wellbeing of boys, in educational print media. (page 1)  (page 1 & 39)