Our interest in mindfulness began when we learned about how:
- mindfulness training can improve working memory, reading comprehension and task focus
- mindfulness meditation improves learning and memory processes
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness Meditation is a type of meditation that focuses attention on breathing, bodily sensations and mental relaxation. The primary focus is to concentrate on our current physical state.
It works by engaging six neuropsychological processes:
- Non-attachment & decentering
- Intention and motivation
- Extinction and reconsolidation
- Emotion regulation
- Pro-social behaviour
See also: What is Mindfulness Meditation?
- It brings attention back to the present, away from worries of the future
- It reduces stress
- It breaks the cycle of worry, where one fear feeds on another until it snowballs into full-blown anxiety or even a panic attack
- It teaches them to identify, become aware of and accept emotions, rather than simply be consumed by them
- It allows them to practice awareness and acceptance without judgment
- It improves their memory simply by improving their ability to pay attention
- It enhances their ability to focus and learn
- It lets them experience and understand their thinking process and how their mind works, both of which can lead to a greater understanding of self and their personal experiences in the world
- It improves social skills. In a study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, children who were taught mindfulness skills showed a 24% improvement in social behaviors. They were less aggressive and more empathetic and optimistic than peers without the training.
- It boosts school performance. The Developmental Psychology report also found that math scores for children with mindfulness training increased 15%. Plus, there were measurable improvements in sustained attention in class. A mindfulness practice empowers children with the ability to self-soothe, quiet their thoughts, and focus on the tasks before them.
- It fosters creativity. Stress is the enemy of creativity. Scientists at Harvard showed through neuro-imaging technology that meditation reduced hormones that produce stress and anxiety. Creativeness and inspiration naturally spring from children who experience less emotional tension. As they develop the ability to quiet their thoughts, they are more capable of engaging in artistic activities such as drawing or playing an instrument.
- It reduces impulsivity. Impulsive kids don’t look before they leap — and that often gets them into heaps of trouble. Mindfulness helps by putting a reflective pause between impulse and action, and inspires children to make better choices. When a California middle school introduced a mindfulness program to students, suspensions were reduced by 45% during first year, and there was a significant upsurge in attendance and overall grade point averages.
- It encourages independent thinking. Mindful children are far less likely to cave to peer pressure. Numerous studies suggest that children introduced to mindfulness experience less social anxiety and symptoms of depression. Such kids have a stronger sense of self, and are less likely to be swayed by schoolyard bullies or seduced into making poor choices.
We were also very interested to see how it has been applied into school programs:
Mindfulness practice is quick and easy to implement in school and at home. We felt that the potential benefits for teaching children such practices are worth that little effort it takes to incorporate it into our day so we’ve collected some resources that can help you introduce mindfulness meditation into your family’s way of life.
Mindfulness – Getting Started
- Breath is the anchor – here are some tips for teaching belly breathing to children
- Learn to let go
- Use your imagination
- Prepare and be patient
- Practice what you teach
- Start by practicing it yourself. Not only do our children learn through observation, we are also better teachers when we have personally experienced the challenges and benefits for ourselves.
- When we practice mindfulness, we can become better parents and our children will benefit directly from their experiences with us.
- Choose an activity that will resonate with your child – for instance, an auditory child could ring a bell and listen until the sound fades away.
- Breathing meditations – help younger children focus on their breath by offering pretend scenarios, such as pretending to inhale the scent of a flower or blowing out a bubble.
- Don’t force it – mindfulness should never be a form of punishment.
- Sit in a quiet area away from distractions (turn off your cell phone!).
- Remain still and quiet, breathing naturally for at least 1 minute, as your mind and body begin to relax.
- Explain to your child you are going to close your eyes and count your breath in your mind as you sit for 5 minutes. Illustrate the counting by doing it for your child and counting out loud. Breathe in and count one, breathe out and count one. Breathe in and count two, breathe out and count two, and so on.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes, or whatever length you desire for the first session. A simple egg timer or kitchen timer will do.
- Have your child close their eyes and begin the breath counting in their mind as you do the same until the timer goes off.
- Compare notes on what the session was like. What did it feel like? What did your mind do? Discuss any other topics that come up.
Other Mindfulness resources:
- Mindful Schools resource page offers free mindfulness exercises
- 10 Mindfulness Exercises to do with your kids
- 8 Ways to Teach Mindfulness to Kids
Books on Mindfulness
10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn
Teaching Our Children to Help Themselves Be Happy
Practical, timely, relevant, and inspiring, 10 Mindful Minutes is Goldie Hawn’s gift to parents who want to help their children learn better and live happier lives. Inspired by the revolutionary MindUP program (developed under the auspices of the Hawn Foundation), the book offers easy-to-grasp insights from current behavioral, psychological, and neurological studies to show how our thoughts, emotions, and actions—including our ability to focus, manage stress, and learn—are all exquisitely interconnected. Hawn presents simple and practial ways to develop mindfulness in children and parents alike, and shares her own heartfelt experiences with the challenges and joys of parenting.
Calm Kids by Lorraine Murray
‘At school, we believe education should touch the whole child. This includes the physical, emotional, spiritual, social and cognitive aspects of the child’s life. We teach children quietness as a skill to reflect and recharge their inner lives. Lorraine Murray helped us on this journey.’ — Sheila Laing, Head Teacher Stress and behavioural disorders are common in children, who are increasingly bombarded by marketing campaigns, faced with school and peer pressure, and able to sense the stress of adults around them. Mindfulness and meditation can help children recognise and cope with these pressures, releasing bad feelings gently and giving them simple tools to deal with tension and stress throughout their lives.
In this practical and inspiring book, Lorraine Murray shows parents, teachers and youth workers how to lead fun and peaceful meditation sessions with children. Lorraine explains a variety of different approaches, from meditations around daily activities for busy families, to ideas for group ‘quietness’ sessions in schools. She provides fun, tactile rhymes for toddlers to help them calm down before bedtime, and suggests ways to help teenagers reduce anxiety. She goes on to explain how these methods can help children with ADHD and those on the autistic spectrum, giving a range of case studies. This book is suitable for complete beginners, or those with some experience of relaxation and meditation techniques. It offers all the advice needed to lead sessions with children, whilst encouraging the reader to adapt and develop their own ways of helping children to feel calmer, happier and more peaceful.