Why Your Children Should Practice Mindfulness
The key components of mindfulness training include concentration, intense focus and a calming of the mind and body. Now picture an elementary school classroom – not exactly the hallmark of relaxation, is it? Despite the apparent dichotomy between meditation and childhood activity, it is both possible and beneficial for kids as young as five years old to start a mindfulness program.
Several schools and districts across the country have experimented with a mindfulness “course” as part of their regular classroom routine. A district in San Francisco found that test scores, especially in math, skyrocketed as a result, and suspensions and dropouts curtailed significantly. Other schools have replaced in-school suspension with in-school meditation so that students can focus on the moment at hand, not dwell on the moments that led to their misbehavior.
The human brain has its greatest neuroplasticity during the first five years, but the brain is still growing and susceptible to outside influence as children begin to navigate the oftentimes confusing world of peers, authority, and personal development. The elementary years can be a stressful time, and kids display their anxiety in a multitude of ways. Here’s how an early adoption of simple meditation practice can help children:
Less Stress, More A’s
Meditation is a boon for memory, attention, and focus – all crucial factors for achieving good test scores. Mindfulness doesn’t work its magic by making students smarter; instead, it subtly narrows a child’s attention down to the task at hand. If that task happens to be a test, the meditated mind kicks into overdrive and can better recall information by filtering out the unnecessary stuff.
Just as mindfulness can do the work of antidepressant medication in adults and replace pill dependence, so too can it reduce hyperactive tendencies in young children. Rather than start a child down a potentially dangerous path of ADHD prescriptions, rewiring the brain to naturally cope with stressful situations young will provide a lifetime of benefits.
Regulating Those Tantrums
Children can’t be expected to know all the ways the world works (most adults haven’t figured it out, either). When they can’t express how they feel, or when they can’t properly relate to an experience, children’s emotional responses can be all over the map. Mindfulness training has been shown to help kids connect with themselves and actually exhibit some self-control.
When humans get stressed out, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. While important for “fight or flight” type reactions, too much cortisol can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure. After a regular mindfulness program, cortisol levels in children have been shown to be much lower than normal, suggesting their minds’ ability to recognize a stressful situation and let it pass without judgment.
Being a Better Friend
Meditation frees the mind from self-judgment, allowing us to focus on the needs of others. This empathetic thinking also exists in children who meditate. Mindful kids are able to see things from outside their own perspectives, making them happier and more inclusive of others. One study showed that children who meditate exhibit 24% more positive social behaviors and actually view themselves as being more social. With continued regular practice, increased self-esteem and non-judgmental, compassionate thinking can last a lifetime.