Category: Mental Health

Mindfulness for Kids and Parents

Have you ever heard of mindfulness?

These kids don't look like they need any help focusing on the present moment - having fun playing with each other!
These kids don’t look like they need any help focusing on the present moment – having fun playing with each other! Photo by Todd Fahrner

Once upon a time, you probably would not have if you weren’t Buddhist.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation.

“Most of the time, we are lost in the past or carried away by the future. When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.”

Thich Nhat Hanh on The Long Road Turns To Joy

But much like yoga, an ancient Hindu practice, mindfulness has become popular without understanding its spiritual ties.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Why practice mindfulness?

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

You can actually find some studies that have found all kinds of benefits of mindfulness, from increased immune functioning to boosting your memory and attention span.

Now, I would view any of those benefits with a lot of skepticism, but the benefits that do seem plausible include decreasing stress and anxiety and improving your sleep, etc.

“Mindfulness meditation on breath, perhaps the most well-known type, involves sitting quietly, resting or closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath. When your attention drifts away, which it is likely to do, simply usher your attention back to your breath without judgment.”

AAP on Just Breathe: The Importance of Meditation Breaks for Kids

The American Academy of Pediatrics even suggests that mindfulness meditation can be helpful for children, although it is a clinical report from the Section on Integrative Medicine that is examining “best-available evidence.”

Does Mindfulness Work?

Many of us would like mindfulness to work.

Stress and anxiety are big problems today, both among kids and their parents. Their pediatricians too. So should we all start reading books on mindfulness?

Or go to a mindfulness group parenting class or start mindfulness-based cognitive therapy?

“Despite existing methodological limitations within each body of literature, there is a clear convergence of findings from correlational studies, clinical intervention studies, and laboratory-based, experimental studies of mindfulness—all of which suggest that mindfulness is positively associated with psychological health, and that training in mindfulness may bring about positive psychological effects.”

Keng et al on Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies

Considering that many reviews have been critical and the one with the most praise could only find a suggestion of positive associations, although I have always liked the idea of mindfulness, I am skeptical of its use as a medical treatment.

“I think the best current summary is to consider mindfulness like yoga, or a specific form of exercise. There is evidence that doing yoga has specific health benefits. However, those benefits are likely not specific to yoga and are universal to exercise. It is therefore more accurate to say that exercise has many health benefits, and yoga is a form of exercise.”

Steven Novella on Is Mindfulness Meditation Science-Based?

Can we just say that being mindful is a way to help you relax?

And being able to relax has some health benefits?

Give mindfulness a try if you want. Just don’t expect miracles and realize that with all of the distractions that you likely have in your life, being truly mindful is going to be much more difficult than you could ever imagine.

And while you can sell mindfulness, it is now a billion dollar industry, you can’t really buy it.

You can start with turning off the TV unless you are watching a specific program. And putting your phone down when the kids are around. Basically, get away from always trying to multitask and focus on who you are with or what you are doing at any one moment.

And learn about breathing

What to Know About Mindfulness for Kids and Parents

There might not be much proof that it works, but mindfulness might be worth a try if you are just looking for a way to help you and your kids relax.

More About Mindfulness for Kids and Parents

Helping Kids Cope With Stress

Children, especially teens, often have stress in their lives.

Whether caused by the loss of a friend or loved one, a recent move, being teased or bullied, difficulties at home, or problems at school, childhood stress can lead to behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, headaches, drug use, and insomnia, among many other symptoms and medical problems.

Other symptoms of stress can include mood swings or temper tantrums in a younger child, withdrawing from friends and family, and aggression.

What Causes Kids to Have Stress?

Unfortunately, the source of stress for a child is frequently not so easy to recognize and parents are not always very good at noticing things that could be stressors, which can include things like:

  • a change at daycare for preschool age children, including attending daycare for the first time, moving to a new room, having a new teacher, or changing to a new daycare, etc.
  • having too much homework
  • being over-scheduled with sports and other extracurricular activities
  • having expectations for his performance that are unrealistic and too high or a fear of failure, despite of having good grades, having a lot of friends, etc.
  • a divorce or death in a friend’s family, which can raise fears that the same thing could happen to his own parents
  • poor self esteem
  • watching something stressful on the news, such as a school shooting, terrorist attack, or natural disaster
  • a chronic medical problem, like asthma or diabetes, or an acute medical problem, like a burn or broken leg
  • a medical problem in a family member
  • a traffic accident
  • financial problems at home

Keep in mind that common childhood transitions, such as moving to a toddler bed, starting kindergarten, going to camp, starting puberty, beginning high school, and going off to college, etc., can be very stressful for some children.

The other confusing thing about stress is that the symptoms of being stressed do not always immediately follow whatever is causing the stress and the same situations don’t cause stress in all children or even for the same child at different stages in their life.

Helping Kids Cope With Stress

Although overlooked as many parents and children look for a quick fix for their problems with stress, it is important not to overlook the importance of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a good night’s sleep to help them cope with any problems with any stress they are having.

Other ways to help your child cope with stress can include:

  • scheduling more free time for your child, especially if being too busy is the source of her stress
  • spending quality time with your child and give them plenty of opportunities to talk about their worries and problems
  • eating dinner together each night as a family and having other routines or rituals that you stick to on a regular basis
  • helping your child set realistic expectations for himself
  • be prepared for stressful situations that you can anticipate, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move to a new city, or a parent who is going to have surgery
  • giving your child age appropriate responsibilities and allowing him to overcome simple challenges on his own without always bailing him out, which can help teach them basic problem solving skills that he will need throughout his life
  • teaching your child ways to relax, including diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visual imagery, listening to music, reading, keeping a journal, and drawing, etc.

Your pediatrician can be a good resource if your need help managing your child’s level of stress, especially if your child’s symptoms from the stress are not temporary. A mental health professional, such as a counselor, child psychologist, and/or child psychiatrist, can also be very helpful for the overly stressed child or even for a child who does not routinely handle stress well.

Sources:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families. No. 66; Updated Feb 2013. Stress Management and Teens. Accessed May 2016.