What’s mindfulness? Asked my energetic five year old, whilst swinging from the door, chewing a pen and holding her sister in a headlock.
“It’s about living in the moment and doing one thing at a time.”
I replied, quietly drinking in the irony of the situation.
Doing too much is symptomatic of the times we live in. We push ourselves to have it all, hurry our children to be on time and struggle to say no. As one of the worst culprits of taking on more than I can cope with, I’m sad to say I’ve passed on my affliction to my daughter. To her credit, she is keen, excitable and wants to do everything. And I love that she grabs every opportunity with both hands.
But this term, one of the clubs on the extra curricular list was mindfulness. Following a brief discussion and in the spirit of saying “yes” to absolutely everything, she signed up for the club. So, I hit Google to find out what exactly mindfulness is and how it might benefit children.
What is mindfulness
There are a few definitions, some of which class it as a meditation. These make reference to being aware of your breathing and using it to ground you in the moment. Focusing on the action of breathing to make you present in the here and now and distance you from distracting thoughts.
I don’t know about you, but focusing on my breathing always makes me a bit panicky. I think about breathing, then I’m aware that I’m breathing and it seems a bit odd. And I forget how to breathe. It reminds me a bit of the Peanuts sketch about being aware of your tongue.
And now I’m worryingly aware of both my tongue and my breathing…
Mercifully most texts seem to refer to mindfulness as living in the moment. Being fully aware of what is happening in our lives right now. Accepting ourselves for who we are and not judging ourselves or thinking that we should be doing something else.
There has been a lot of research into the benefits for adults, particularly for dealing with stress. But more recently, there has been research on how it can help children.
8 benefits of mindfulness for children
1. Physical health
It is a sad indictment of our society that children are increasingly suffering from stress. And research has shown that stressful events can impact their health both immediately and in later life. The use of mindfulness techniques can reduce the stress reaction to events, thereby lessening their effect on physical health.
Anxiety is sadly common among children and young people. This gives rise to worries about things that could happen, instead of things that are presently happening. Children who learn to be mindful are able to focus their attention on what is happening in the here and now, which can break the anxiety cycle.
Whilst I haven’t found any research to suggest mindfulness could prevent depression, there is a suggestion that it could work as a coping mechanism. It can teach people to be aware of their unhealthy thoughts and bring their attention back to the here and now. This can be taught using breathing techniques and focus on positive things around them.
4. Increased attention
In a study with children in year three and four of primary school, mindfulness increased the attention span of 64% of them. I know that Libby struggles with concentration, and I understand her frustration. If mindfulness can make it easier for school children to concentrate, it will be beneficial for the whole class.
5. Better exam results
For older children, there is a suggestion that mindfulness can help with exams. Children at a particular school were regularly asked to stop whatever they were doing, close their eyes and focus on breathing. Children who did this regularly performed better when they were asked to do so before an exam.
6. Improved behaviour
The ability to experience the present moment can be expanded to gain control over it. Children who are able to find a quiet place in their minds can become more self-aware. This brings with it an ability to choose their behaviours rather than acting on impulse.
With an ability to regulate our own emotions comes the capacity to build better social connections. Children engaging in mindfulness tune into themselves, which allows them to tune into others. This in turn leads to greater empathy and an ability to see things from another person’s perspective.
8. Better quality of sleep
Even in adults who are chronic insomniacs, a link has been observed between mindfulness and better sleep quality. This has been extended further, revealing that children can also sleep better as a byproduct of the reduced stress levels associated with mindfulness training.
If I’m brutally honest, I doubt whether mindfulness will really be my daughter’s thing. She’s a very energetic child who finds stress relief in being active or even just chilling in front of the television. But she is quite highly strung and is constantly worried about missing out on things. So if she does manage to stick with mindfulness club, I think she would benefit hugely from it.
Whatever her decision, I’ll be on board with it. Perhaps I will even try a little mindfulness myself. Although I’m not convinced it’s right for me.
I am still aware of my tongue.
If this would help your child, you can find some ideas of mindfulness exercises here.