Running from school to soccer games, navigating the on and offline social world and filtering out the non-stop buzzes, beeps and violence playing out on the ever-present screens around us can frazzle any adult, much less a child. Anxiety and stress is on the rise for kids and its unfortunately starting at earlier ages. The good news is that some of the mind-body methods, like meditation that reduce tension for adults, also work for children, especially when they are matched to the developmental level of a child or adolescent.
At its root, meditation is a nervous system based practice that can nourish a child’s psyche by directly enhancing the functioning of the brain. While research on meditation and children is a more recent area of exploration, we are finding that mindfulness in particular can be a powerful tool in cultivating well-being. The 4 areas most likely to be impacted by regular mindfulness practice in kids are:
Focus: This may be first time in human history where there is an ubiquitous barrage of sounds and sights that are specifically designed to grab attention. The constant distractions can interfere with the ability to maintain concentration. Children who meditate are better able to focus and sustain attention, since paying attention, in a meaningful way is exactly what is being nurtured during meditation. This not only helps kids be more ready to learn but also more able to retain and thus synthesize information.
Emotional Balance: When living in a state of unending stimulation and/or steady stress, kids (and adults) are primed to become overwhelmed, which can lead to impulsivity and behavioral escalations. Mindfulness helps the brain to process situations from a greater place of calm, instead of instantly reacting from a “fight or flight” state. A mind that has been meditating better allows information to be processed through the part of the brain that helps with thinking through consequences while pulling from the storehouse of more appropriate and positive responses. This gives a child a better sense of mastery over where the world and their emotions intersect, which reinforces staying cool and collected.
Compassion & Empathy: When a child feels fear or anxiety, the automatic state is to be in one of self-preservation. As children are already developing the capacity to think of other people and how they might be feeling, mindfulness helps that process along by reducing the experience of stress and by enhancing the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Social Connectedness: Children who are calmer and have a toolbox to release tension are less inclined to get stuck in a cycle of negativity. By its nature, negativity tends to keep us humans focused on our own woes and struggles while missing out on what might be going on for others. Mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment, allows us to better take in a full picture from noticing body language of peers to reading how best to prevent interpersonal conflict.