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Can Mindfulness Help Kids Thrive? Science Suggests It Can

Magazine covers and news reports tout the benefits of mindfulness for everything from easing chronic pain to improving work performance. Recent research suggests it might benefit kids, too. Could mindfulness help your child?

What Is Mindfulness, Exactly?

Mindfulness can be practiced through a variety of means, including meditation, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and yoga. A person practicing mindfulness will often use a physical focal point to center his or her self in the present moment. Usually, that center point is the breath.

Children’s natural propensity for physical activity has led some researchers to conclude that mindfulness-based programs that include a physical component (like yoga) may be more effective than sedentary mindfulness programs. Yoga may even be more effective than other forms of exercise for treating anger and depression in adolescents.

How Can Mindfulness Help Kids?

You might assume mindfulness is too complex for kids to understand, but recent research suggests otherwise. In fact, some studies have shown children both capable and open to learning the concept. Moreover, a growing body of research suggests mindfulness may have several benefits for kids, including:

Treating Externalizing Disorders: In 2008, researchers conducted mindfulness training on a group of adolescents diagnosed with varying disorders, including oppositional-defiant disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prior to the start of the study, all of the children displayed externalizing behaviors, which occur when individuals direct their negative emotions outward. People with externalizing disorders display verbal or physical aggression toward other people or objects in their environment.

Following the eight-week mindfulness training program, the adolescents reported improved ability to achieve their personal goals as well as increased happiness. The children’s parents reported not only improvement in their children’s goals, but interestingly – improvement on the parents’ goals as well. Children and their parents also reported improvements in areas like attention, self-control, and externalizing behaviors.

Reducing Anxiety: Unfortunately, one in eight children in America suffer from an anxiety-related disorder. Often, anxiety leads to more than just discomfort. Children with untreated anxiety disorders are more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues and poor academic performance.

A 2014 meta-analysis of current research on mindfulness meditation found some evidence that mindfulness can alleviate anxiety-related symptoms in adults. Mindfulness may provide an effective treatment for people suffering from anxiety, without the risks sometimes associated with pharmacologic treatment.

But can the same be said for children who practice mindfulness? Some research suggests so. The results of a small 2005 study showed mindfulness potentially helpful for the treatment of anxiety in children.

Increasing Compassion And Empathy: Some research suggests mindfulness meditation can lead to increased compassion in adults. Interestingly, adults who undergo mindfulness training often demonstrate not only more compassion toward others, but also greater self-compassion.

In 2015, researchers set out to answer whether mindfulness could also lead to increased compassion in children. The researchers randomly assigned a group of fourth and fifth graders to either a mindfulness-based social and emotional learning (SEL) program or to a social responsibility program that did not include mindfulness.

Following completion of the two programs, children in the SEL program demonstrated significant improvements in a number of areas, including empathy. These kids also engaged in more pro-social behaviors, which refers to actions performed for the benefit of others. Children in the SEL program were also perceived by their peers as more pro-social than children who completed the social responsibility program. Moreover, kids in the SEL program also demonstrated improvements in their school self-concept, suggesting greater compassion toward themselves, too.

While it may not be for everyone, it’s clear mindfulness will continue to help many people – including kids. With so much anecdotal evidence backed by scientific research, we now know that mindfulness has the potential to help kids thrive. Mindfulness offers a number of benefits, in addition to treating externalizing disorders, relieving anxiety, and increasing empathy. And if you decide to practice mindfulness or yoga, you may find your own improved state of calm strengthens your parent-child relationship. Your child just might “catch” your calm, too!

Here at Medford Fitness, we offer a number of children’s programs designed to help kids thrive, including yoga for children ages five through ten. Kids’ yoga is held on Wednesdays from 4:15 to 5:00 pm.

Call (609) 654-1440 today for a FREE week trial of kids’ yoga!