The pandemic has certainly brought to light that children today have reportedly high stress levels. To help them take a break, Intermountain Health encourages both parents and teachers to teach mindfulness practices to children.
“The basic idea of mindfulness is to recognize people are distracted, and their minds are all over the place, all day long. The goal is to train parents and children to pay attention more often to what is going on in the present moment, instead of ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future,” said Katrina Jensen, a pediatric nurse with Intermountain Health.
“Mindfulness is like living life in real time and seeing things as they are and with a sense of openness and compassion,” she added.
Psychological and physical benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is gaining a foothold in disease prevention and treatment. A number of studies in school settings have shown mindfulness improved attention and behavior.
Research has shown mindfulness has benefits for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are also physical benefits from mindfulness, as it calms the nervous system and decreases stress hormones. Studies have shown benefits for gastrointestinal symptoms, obesity, headaches, high blood pressure, pain sensitivity, and immune function.
“The simple act of teaching children how to stop, focus, and just breathe could be one of the greatest gifts to give a child,” said Jensen.
Ways to incorporate mindfulness into a child’s day
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a few simple ways to teach mindfulness.
- Try incorporating deep breathing into a child’s daily bedtime routine—it can help them wind down for the night and gets them in the practice of using mindfulness when other situations arise.
- Belly breathing is a good way to help children be mindful. Have them place their hands on their belly and then take deep slow breaths in and up, and then as they begin to exhale they can focus on pushing the air out into their belly and extend their hands outward.
- As young children learn to manage strong emotions, deep breathing can be part of the process— especially before and after time outs.
- Remind grade schoolers to take a few deep breaths before answering a difficult question at school, taking a test, or before an athletic performance.
There are multiple ways to learn different practices of mindfulness and meditation. There are books, audio recordings, videos, online training, websites, and even smartphone apps to help children meditate. Help children find one that helps them enjoy a calmer body, mind and spirit.
Recommendations for length and frequency of mindfulness meditation
Suggestions from pediatricians about how often and how long to practice mindful meditation at various ages are as follows:
- Preschool children: A few minutes per day.
- Grade school children: 3-10 minutes twice a day.
- Teens and adults: 5-45 minutes per day or more based on preference.
About Intermountain Health
Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called SelectHealth with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs.