Adults who practice mindfulness, meditation, and yoga know the power of these practices for overall well-being and stress management. Did you know that research shows children who are introduced to mindfulness practices also enjoy powerful benefits, including improved executive function, development of self-regulation, and stronger social-emotional health.
Numerous studies have reported benefits for children who are introduced to mindfulness practices. In one study, children who received instruction in social-emotional learning were found to have greater empathy, emotional control, optimism, and mindfulness, as well as showing greater decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and peer-rated aggression.
Research into children’s understanding of depression found that children are more likely to use the term depression to describe an emotional state, rather than a psychological disorder. When presented with hypothetical situations that included depression in children, older children in the study anticipated more negative consequences of depression and a longer period to recovery. Mindfulness activities that also help improve children’s understanding of depression can help address these misconceptions children may have.
A study of children’s perceptions of a mindfulness program found, ‘three themes emerged from the focus groups: the yoga program helped students (a) feel calm and focused, (b) gave them strategies to control their behavior in stressful situations, and (c) supported a positive self-esteem’. Researchers concluded, ‘school-based interventions such as yoga programs may help to prevent behavioral problems, improve social participation, and help students to engage in classroom learning’.
In another study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, researchers found that students who engaged in mindful yoga demonstrated significant increases in both global and long-term self-regulation compared to the control cohort.
‘Children develop their brains as well as their bodies through movement, and in the process of concentration, self-discipline, and perseverance with an active interest, the foundations of character are laid.’
Maria Montessori in Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents, p.51.
Montessori knew that movement is necessary for healthy development. Beginning a mindfulness session with gentle yoga poses provides a calming transition from the busyness of activity to the rest of meditation. In fact, when yoga was added to mindfulness practice, one study found that it helped children with behavior, social participation, and engagement in classroom learning.
In the Montessori classroom, supporting focus and concentration provides similar benefits. When a child is focused on the task in front of them, they are fully present in the moment. Often oblivious to activity around them, their whole body and mind is attuned to the task at hand. Adults observing the child will notice when their attention returns to the movement in the environment.
‘But, on the other hand, when the cycle is completed, the child detaches themselves from their internal concentration; refreshed and satisfied, they experience the higher social impulses, such as desiring to make confidences and to hold intimate communion with other souls’.
Maria Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method Volume I, p. 76
Mindfulness practice invites children into a similar experience of rest and renewal. Sharing a mindfulness practice with the children in your care provides them with the opportunity to step away from activity and rest. Creating opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and yoga doesn’t need to be time consuming. Having a small yoga mat and a few pictures of simple yoga poses available on a shelf invites children to choose yoga movement as an independent activity. Likewise, a designated “meditation” rug can encourage children to sit quietly, rest and observe.
During transitions between activities, such as preparing to go outside, inviting the group to join in taking a few deep breaths, mindfully paying attention to the air coming into their bodies and the breath going out provides a pause that can aid in the shift to a new activity.
Adding some mindfulness and meditation to your day can also offer benefits to the children. When the adults in children’s lives practice mindfulness and meditation, it ‘rubs off’ on the children in their care. Mindfulness practice helps adults stay calm in difficult situations, which in turn helps them model self-regulation for the children in the room.
For both children and the adults who care for them, adding mindfulness and meditation to the daily routine allows them to step out of the stimuli in the environment, giving both body and brain a chance to rest and recharge.