Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
As adults, many of us have experienced the profound benefits of meditation; but the benefits for children are equally significant.
When we practice meditation and mindfulness in our own lives, we often find that the release of stress and negativity and the emerging clarity of thought are healing forces, bolstering our emotional and personal wellbeing.
In the same way that these moments of peace help us to access our own coping skills and be better and more present parents, our children can benefit cognitively and emotionally from learning about and practicing meditation; truly, it is an ideal tool for achieving whole-family wellness.
Both in the classroom and at home, science has shown that meditation supports children in the development of a number of important personal skills. These are linked with behavioral and academic achievements as well as milestones of emotional maturity.
Meditation and Sense of Self
Personal identity is a tremendous part of how we conduct ourselves at any age, and a stable sense of identity is an important part of good mental health.
Normally, the development of self-identity begins during childhood, as kids form peer relationships and discover the things they like and don’t like. The time during which personal identities begin to emerge, typically around ages 8 or 9, can be socially challenging for kids — bullying and teasing are common, and the journey toward finding true friends and feeling confident and positive about their identity can be rocky.
A study regarding the impact of meditation education on childhood spirituality performed in a number of schools in one Melbourne diocese revealed that time spent getting in touch with the self via meditation can positively impact childhood identity development. One development that educators observed in participating students was an improvement in sense of self. (source)
Meditation and Coping with Acute Stressors
The ability to cope with tough situations with pragmatism and strength is not inborn, it is taught by example and learned through experience. Though we try our best to shelter our children from difficult and scary times, sometimes it’s not possible — the terminal illness of a loved one, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, or a severe, destructive weather event, for example.
Without the proper tools to process these emotions children may find themselves feeling angry, sad, upset and out-of-control for longer, overarching periods of time.
One of the most pertinent parts of meditation is the use of mindfulness, which encourages us to allow thoughts and emotions to flow free and be processed naturally; by letting go and giving in to this experience, calm and stress relief can be found even during crisis.
In a meta-analysis of studies on meditation and mindfulness published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, the stress-relieving benefits of meditation have been suggested as a useful coping tool for children facing acute situations of crisis. (source)
Meditation and Improved Focus
When children struggle to maintain focus in the classroom, suffering grades and impacted relationships are a subsequent reality. Any child can suffer from occasional issues with focus if they’re excited, uncomfortable, or upset, but some kids have more impactful and consistent difficulty with taking it slow, paying attention, and keeping their mind on the task at hand, even when things are relatively calm.
Meditation and mindfulness, often touted by advanced practitioners as legitimate tools for restoring the ability to focus, have been scientifically validated to have the same benefit for children; this is likely because meditation prompts mindfulness via parts of the brain engaged in executive functioning, we pull the mind back from distractions and return focus onto the objects of our choice. After a study in which meditation education was introduced to 31 Australian Catholic schools, proctors noted improved ability to focus as one of the benefits gained by the practice.
Meditation and Emotional Self-Regulation
When healthy adults feel anger, sadness or overwhelm, we use coping tools to feel our experiences, process them, and then express them in a (hopefully) effective way. Learning to do this happens through lived experience, and it’s important to remember that these ‘big’ emotions can leave kids feeling out of control (with emotional expressions to match).
Successful self-regulation is a milestone of emotional maturity, and some children reach it far more easily than others (some of us are still working on it).
One meta-analysis of studies on school-based meditation practices has linked meditation with improvements in emotional self-regulation, as using mindfulness to process, experience, and let go of emotional upsets can endow children with coping skills that are valuable in the long term. (source)
Meditation and Quality-of-Life Improvements for Children with ADHD
Parents of children with ADHD are likely all too familiar with the academic, social, personal, and health challenges that come with it. Inability to focus, poor sleep patterns, diminished quality of relationships, and related stress, anxiety, and depression can become dominant, causing unintended negative impact to parents and children alike.
Numerous studies have correlated meditation and mindfulness with likely improvements in quality of life for children and families coping with ADHD. In one meta-analysis reviewing meditation’s potential benefits as a behavioral and health intervention in schools, improved focus and reduced forgetfulness were cited as likely impacts of practicing meditation.
An additional study assessing children with ADHD during participation in biweekly sessions of meditation using Sahaja yoga revealed that participating children experienced improved sleep patterns and an improved quality of relationships with family and friends. (source).
But like so many things, meditation has to be practiced. Try it for a few minutes a day with your kiddo and see what happens!
You may also enjoy reading Mindfulness in the Classroom: Learning from the Inside Out, by Laura Bakosh.