Mindfulness practice promotes mental health for kids and teenagers
Growing up is a stressful experience. Hardships is part of life, from the moment you are born. Just the process of birth alone can be extremely traumatic. Babies get hungry and tired. Toddlers struggle with language and self-control. Teenagers face challenges of developing relationships, navigating school and becoming independent. Stress seems to be always present.
At each developmental stage, mindfulness is a useful tool for decreasing anxiety, reducing the risk of mental health issues and promoting happiness.
‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.’ This is the definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness.
Mindfulness has grown in popularity in the last few decades. It is being taught to executives at corporations, athletes during training sessions and increasingly to children in schools.
Children of all ages can benefit from mindfulness. It can help parents and caregivers, too, by promoting happiness and relieving stress.
Three easy mindfulness practices
- Elevator down. Imagine an elevator going down three floors. (Older children may prefer to imagine more floors.) Imagine now that the elevator is in your body. When you are sitting, imagine the top floor is from your head to your chest. The next floor is from your chest to your belly, and the third from your belly to your bottom. Begin at the crown of your head. On your next exhale mentally chant “three” as you imagine the elevator lowering from your crown to your chest. Pause for an inhale. When the doors open, imagine a fresh breeze comes in and freshens up the elevator. On the next exhale, mentally chant “two.” Imagine going down another flight to your belly. Continue to the ground floor, chanting “one.” Pause and feel your bottom on the ground floor and enjoy landing fully.
- Finger-counting breaths. This is a useful do-anywhere exercise for the middle of the day to calm a child who is having a meltdown at a birthday party or just to re-center. Create gentle fists with your hands, and with each breath, unfurl a finger from your palm. For example, on your first exhale open your left thumb from your fist. Pause and enjoy an inhale. On your next exhale, unfurl your left index finger. Pause and enjoy an inhale. Continue until you have two open palms on your lap. Sometimes you can use ‘aaaooohhhmmm’ for each finger or use a personal mantra that represents the feeling you are looking for, like peace, love, quiet, calm or relax. When children make up the mantra, it helps them have self-awareness of what they may need, as well as how they can take charge of how they want to feel.
- Deep breaths before bed.Take a deep breath in through the nose, and on the exhale chant out loud: “three” (thrreee). Enjoy another deep in-breath, and on the next exhale, chant “two” (twwooo). Take a last deep breath in and exhale, chanting: “one” (onnee). Relax for a few breaths and notice your body lying on your bed. Repeat if desired.
Research into mindfulness for children
Recent research in the UK shows that mindfulness for young people is easy to carry out and fits into a wide range of contexts. Well-conducted mindfulness interventions can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behaviour, improve sleep and self-esteem and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, the ability to manage behaviour and emotions, self-awareness and empathy.
Mindfulness also contributes directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. It can help young people pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory and enhance planning, problem-solving and reasoning skills.
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