Think that children are too young to learn mindfulness and practice meditation? Research shows otherwise, telling us that children who learn this skill can be more successful in life.
Our children are growing up in a vastly different world from when we were kids. There’s less time for play, and their schedules are packed with school, homework, extra-circular activities, tuition, and enrichment classes. It’s no wonder that this generation of children is showing greater signs of restlessness, anxiety and depression.
What’s the one thing that can help them navigate this often chaotic world? The ability to regulate emotions and find an inner calm. As Dr Amy Saltzman, a holistic physician and mindfulness coach in Menlo Park, California, told the Child Mind Institute: “They can learn to observe their thoughts and feelings… they can begin to choose their behaviours.”
Calm is the New ‘It’ Ability
And it’s not just some “woo-woo” new age thing either. In the United States, hundreds of K-12 (4-19 year olds) schools teach “mindfulness meditation” to help children manage stress. The very pleasant side effect? Less misbehaving.
Here in Singapore, mindfulness as made its way into the education system as well. Over 10 schools have introduced mindfulness sessions as part of a school day. At Westwood Primary School, students participate in daily “mindfulness breathing” sessions at the end of recess. Ms Sophia Tan, the teacher-in-charge, told The Straits Times that this is part of the school’s “positive education” framework.
It is a way to help pupils re-focus before returning to lessons after recess. “Mindfulness helps children regulate their emotions and thoughts. As it becomes a routine and habit, they can use it in other aspects of their lives,” she said.
Indeed, this somewhat esoteric practice has caught on with the masses. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Apple’s 2017 iPhone App of the Year was one called Calm. This app has amassed over 12 million downloads. One of its standout features is its children’s section, “Calm Kids”, which includes sleep stories to help the children get to sleep, and short, 10-minute guided meditations.
Why You Should Encourage Your Child to Practice Mindfulness
1. It Helps Improve Your Child’s Concentration
You may be thinking: “Sure, that sounds great, but how does practicing meditation and mindfulness help my child get better marks in tests and exams?” According to a study carried out by the Association for Psychological Science (APS), a 2-week mindfulness training course showed improvement in the overall focus of forty-eight undergraduate students. These students displayed reduced mind wandering among participants who were prone to distraction before mindfulness training.
2. It Helps Special Needs Children
As cited in Forbes, a study in 2004 showed that children with ADHD who learned meditation with their parents (in a clinic setting) and continued to practice at home, had shown to have better concentration, among other benefits. Another study in 2013 confirmed this finding, showing that boys with ADHD significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration after eight weeks of mindfulness training.
3. It Can Improve Your Child’s Grades
Oh yes, and isn’t that enough reason? It’s likely that meditation and mindfulness can help your child improve attendance and produce better grades in school. In the same study conducted by the APS (above), mindfulness training improved students’ reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity, while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts during completion of the standardised test (GRE) and the measure of working memory.
Another trial published in the journal Developmental Psychology, and featured in Time magazine, showed an improvement in children’s math scores after undergoing mindfulness training. 4th and 5th graders from public schools in British Columbia were placed into two test groups – one group that underwent a standardised “social responsibility” program already found in Canadian public schools, and the other group that underwent a mindfulness program for a period of four months.
The results were dramatic. In comparison to the children in the “social responsibility” program, children with the mindful intervention had 15% better math scores, showed 24% more social behaviours, were 24% less aggressive and perceived themselves as 20% more pro-social.
4. It Can Boost Your Child’s Wellbeing
Furthermore, mindfulness also improves a child’s overall well-being. In the same trial published in Developmental Psychology (see above), the children who underwent mindfulness training outperformed their peers in cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, optimism, empathy, mindfulness and aggression. Another study found similar results – with an after school programme of yoga and meditation helping the children to become less anxious and more relaxed.
(See also: Let Children Learn How To Learn)
5. It can Help Reduce Mental Health Issues
In addition, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found 70 per cent of mental health issues begin during childhood. Last year, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital reported an increase in the number of teens with stress and emotional problems, too. With the increasing number of children suffering from anxiety or depression, and stories on the front-page of our newspapers alerting us to yet another child’s death due to stress, it’s time to seek better ways to help our children cope.
Lead Your Child to Success
Although there’s still more research to be done in this area, it’s no doubt that mindfulness and meditation can be incredibly beneficial to children. With the mid-year examinations coming up, why not set aside 10 minutes everyday to lean into mindfulness with your children? You may be surprised at the results!