Most children are naturally very mindful. Watch a 3 year old with a bug and you’ll know what I mean. But as they get older they experience increasing stress and anxiety which can make them extremely vulnerable to mental health problems.
But there is emerging research that mindfulness training can have a dramatic impact on the mental health of children and teenagers.
Because of this a major UK study is being launched to track the effect of mindfulness on adolescents. Seven thousand teenagers will be monitored to see if special mindfulness awareness sessions will help improve attention and resilience. The 6.4m project programme will be carried out by the University of Oxford and Cambridge University.
Just like we teach children to exercise to improve their physical health, mindfulness exercises develop mental fitness and resilience.
During adolescence the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which affects decision making, emotional regulation and self control, undergoes considerable reorganization. It becomes more susceptible to negative and stressful environments. This is often why there’s an increase in mental health problems in teenagers.
The exciting thing about mindfulness is that it may have the ability to improve the mental resilience to the vulnerability shown by teenagers. Overwhelming negative thoughts and impulses, peer pressure and exam stress could be better handled if attention and resilience skills are improved.
Mindfulness has also been shown to improve children’s well-being, reduce anxiety, depression, distress and bad behavior, improve self-esteem, focus and sleep quality, and bring about greater calmness and relaxation. Regular practice has even been used with children struggling with autism, adhd and as a way to reduce pain in cancer.
The Mindful Schools program in the USA has been a great success and reported many benefits including improved focus and concentration, better conflict resolution and increased empathy for others.
There are easy ways to introduce mindfulness into your children’s lives. You can also use online resources such as meditation music, metaphorical education stories and guided meditations. Most children (and adults!) will love this three minute mindfulness and the art of chocolate eating.
It’s also important that parents model mindfulness themselves. A 2014 Danish study suggested that parents who model self-compassion – a key facet of mindful parenting – had adolescents with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. It appears that when parents model a non-judgmental attitude towards themselves, teenagers imitate their example.
Getting physically active with kids is great, but it’s even better if your child is happy, calm and mentally relaxed. So try including just 5-10 minutes a day of mindfulness training too. Let us know how you get on.
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