Children today have many reasons to feel anxious and stressed:
heavy school work, busy schedules filled with activities and extracurriculars,
creating friendships, and other daily social pressures, not to mention the
devastating effects the pandemic has had on children’s physical and mental
According to a study published by Pew Research Center, around 61 percent of teenagers feel pressured to achieve good grades,
and 29 percent feel pressured to look a certain way in order to fit in
All these pressures combined lead to increased rates
of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents, whose mental health is
becoming an increasing concern globally, for parents and educators alike.
However, recent studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help
children and adolescents better cope with their negative feelings and stressors
in their lives.
While mindfulness might not come naturally to most
children, it can be taught and incorporated into their daily lives, and over
time children will be able to recognize negative thinking patterns,
self-regulate, and improve behavior.
What is mindfulness?
According to Cambridge
Dictionary, mindfulness is “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and
feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm”. To put it
in a more simplified manner, mindfulness is the exact opposite of multitasking.
It is when you dedicate your entire self to paying attention to one thing and
not thinking about anything else in that moment.
When you are mindful, you begin to slow down and
take notice of what you are doing, how you are behaving, and what you are
feeling. It can be as simple as just focusing on your breath. Teaching
mindfulness to children with allow them to take their time and focus on being
relaxed and stress free through a combination of breathing exercises,
relaxation, body awareness, and visualization.
What the research says
Most studies regarding
mindfulness have been conducted with adults in focus, and there is reasonably
strong evidence for its positive impact on a wide range of mental and physical
health conditions, social and emotional well-being, as well as on cognition and
A report from the University of Exeter stated that
some studies that used brain imaging and neuroscience have shown evidence that
practicing mindfulness has the ability to reliably and profoundly alter the
structure and function of the brain, in order to improve the quality of a
person’s thoughts and feelings.
When parents practice mindfulness, they are also
better prepared to handle situations that require patience and clear thinking.
A study published in The Journal of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses looked
at the role of mindfulness on psychological distresses experienced by Jordanian
parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. The study found that
mindfulness was significantly associated with reducing levels of anxiety,
stress, and depression in parents.
Despite research on children not being as extensive
as on adults, many emerging studies are now focused on finding a correlation
between mindfulness and improving child behavior and focus.
A recent review of multiple individual studies
published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health that involved
looking at school-aged children with a range of mental and physical health
problems at home, school, and clinical settings found that mindfulness can
contribute directly to the development of children’s cognitive and performance
skills, as well as of their executive function. In addition, it has been shown
to reduce stress, anxiety, bad behavior, aggressiveness, and improve sleep.
This is especially true for children who learn and
think differently, or are more anxious or impulsive. Kids who struggle in
school due to having negative experiences, and who might feel defeated, can use
mindfulness to stay focused and move past negative experiences with minimal
Why are there benefits to mindfulness?
Childhood is a key
developmental stage for any human being, and what happens during those years
will lay the foundation of that person’s future mental health. Therefore, it is
advisable to introduce mindfulness to children at a very young age where they can
practice and perfect their own style of mindfulness that suits them best and
allows them to cope with frustrations and help them focus their attention on
something specific without allowing any distractions to derail them. This
practice can be very beneficial for children with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder that affects a
child’s ability to stay still and pay attention.
Mindfulness is when you dedicate your entire self to paying attention to one thing and not thinking about anything else in that moment. (Photo: Envato Elements)
In terms of cognitive benefits, mindfulness can
impact a child’s executive functions that are responsible for his ability to
pay attention, switch focus, remember details, plan effectively, and organize
information. This can be especially helpful when implemented into school
programs, to allow students to focus on the task at hand and eventually
enhance their performs, whether in sports, arts, or academics. This means less
visits to the principal’s office, improved attendance, and decreased amount of
bullying in school.
Practicing mindfulness also has many emotional
benefits for children who can use it as a tool to improve their self-esteem, as
well as their general sense of well-being. It can help them relieve anxiety and
stress, as well as help deter mental health issues such as depression, and
improve their social interactions. When a child learns to be mindful, he becomes
more optimistic and feels calmer because he ultimately gains a better
understanding of how his brain works, leading to a deeper understanding of who
he is as a person.
As for social benefits, mindfulness teaches a child
to pause in all types of situations and respond in a thoughtful, calculated
manner, rather than simply react on impulse, which can lead to problems
adjusting to the environment. When children begin to think before they act, the
positive effects begin to snowball; it teaches them compassion and empathy,
thus nurturing mutual respect and care.
Tips to practicing mindfulness
It is important for parents
to remember that the purpose of mindfulness is to reduce stress, therefore it
should be avoided as a disciplinary tool. In addition, it is important to set a
time each day to practice mindfulness in a calm, positive environment that
encourages its practice.
It is also important to practice mindfulness with
your children or your students, not only to model positive behavior but also
for yourself. Mindfulness is a tool meant for all ages and it ensures that you
are a more present figure in the child’s conversations and daily life.
Movement can also be incorporated into mindfulness,
especially for younger children who might find it hard at first to remain still
for a prolonged period of time. It can be through walking meditation or
performing gentle yoga or any other movement that a child feels will improve
her ability to practice it sincerely. Words of affirmation can also be a part
of mindfulness, and are a great way to ingrain positive messages in your
If your child has trouble remembering how and/or why
she is practicing mindfulness, it is possible for you to use acronyms to remind
her of its steps. Such as STOP, where S stands for stopping to take a moment no
matter what you are doing; T stands for taking a breath and bringing yourself
back to the present moment; O stands for observing and acknowledging what is
going on around you and inside you, no matter good or bad; P for when you can
proceed to whatever you were doing after you have taken a moment to step back
Overall, mindfulness is a free trick with countless
benefits that will allow your child to reflect on his own thoughts and
behavior, as well as to learn how to make better choices. It will teach
children to observe and digest everything going on around them without letting
it consume them negatively. That way, they are no longer simply reacting, but
rather responding thoughtfully and purposefully.
When your child finally understands that he can be
in charge of his reactions and can accept his feelings and thoughts as passing
sensations through his body, not only will he make better choices, he will also
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