We all want the best for our children. We spend vast amounts of time, effort and money to ensure that they receive the best possible start in life. Good schools, tutors, extra curricular activities and a healthy diet are just some of the things we all encourage to help nurture the development of our kids; and rightly so. Seeing our children achieve their full potential is something we all hope and strive for.
But what about activities that help our children develop their emotional stability? Granted doing well at school or excelling in sport is a great way to build self-esteem and confidence. It undoubtedly provides a solid foundation that can be applied throughout life, but this alone can bring its own unique set of pressures and stresses. Living up to expectations (whether internal or external) and purely focusing on academic achievement is only part of reaching a happy and healthy life.
While childhood for may of us is a joyful time, a stress free environment where we play with toys, scrape our knees and point at our mouths when we’re hungry, for others it isn’t always so easy. The catalysts for any unhappy periods can be diverse and far-reaching. Divorce, bullying, moving house, exams and social pressures are just some of the causes for stress and anxiety amongst children.
These stresses can often manifest themselves in unhealthy behaviours ranging from disruption in the class or an inability to focus. Teachers often tell children to sit still, be quiet and pay attention, but we don’t always teach them how to do this. During these formative years, understanding and developing the tools to help cope with difficult situations (for there will be many more) is surely an important part of a child’s development.
It’s for these reasons that centre’s like UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Centre have been set-up. They currently provide workshops for both children and teachers to help develop their understanding and practice of meditation. The classes start of with simple breathing exercises and slowly become more introspective as the course progresses. Aiming to help children improve relationships, create relaxation, enhance focus, increase self-acceptance and feel more at ease during exams.
What’s more difficult to understand is if these techniques actually provide any real benefit to children. While there are numerous studies on meditation and its health benefits on the adult population, there is relatively little information on how children react to meditation.
Recent research from the University of Southern California (1) is providing some useful insights. They’ve compiled the data from 16 empirical studies from 1982 to 2008 that examined the effects of meditation on children under the age of 18. With the increase of meditation being more widely used in a number of “youth” settings, the accumulation of data is designed to help guide these programs.
– Of the 7 studies examined, 5 revealed a significant decrease in children’s anxiety.
– 7 out of the 9 studies showed a significant decrease in the periods of absenteeism.
– Two studies show improved social / behavioural functioning that were illustrated through reduced levels of aggression, bullying and adaptive functioning.
The overall results showed that while meditation was successful in the treatment of physiological, psychosocial and behavioural problems among children, the benefits were slightly lower that those of adults.
It is however very encouraging and highlights the role meditation for children could play a positive role in helping children to have stillness, the ability to stay on task, regulate their moods and make good choices. All traits that are not only conducive towards academic achievement, but favorable for a happy and balanced life.
Third-grade teacher Glenna Hamilton from Nystrom Elementary school in Richmond is seeing some of the positive effects from introducing meditation to the daily part of school life.
“This year is much better. Last year, it was just horrible.” One of Hamilton’s most disruptive students became more respectful and responsible since he began receiving mindfulness training. “If he does something incorrect, instead of being argumentative with me, he really thinks about it and realizes, ‘I didn’t make a good choice,’ and I see him self-correcting,”
There are many anecdotal examples of how meditation is being effectively used in schools, what is now needed is further research to fully understand the long-term effects of these type of programs.
About the author: Nick Huxsted is an independent writer who’s interested in meditation research and the effects in has on the human body. He currently works at Will Williams, a centre providing meditation in London, and is a regular contributor to Hip & Healthy.
(1) – Sitting-Meditation Interventions Among Youth: A Review of Treatment Efficacy
David S. Black, MPH, Joel Milam, PhD, and Steve Sussman, PhD