The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are widely recognised in adults, but many overlook the advantages of teaching children this important life skill and the benefits it can bring to both their wellbeing and their behaviour.
A recent survey conducted by NHS Digital found that 17% of children aged between 6–16 had a probable mental disorder, while 39% had experienced a deterioration of their mental health between 2017–2021.
The effects of Covid-19, government-enforced lockdowns and widespread school closures have all had an impact on the mental health of children and made it more important than ever for us to consider ways we can support their wellbeing, both in and out of school.
Meditation offers children a whole host of benefits, with a study finding that brief, daily mediation is linked to improved memory, focus, mood and emotional regulation. In our fast-paced world, we can inadvertently place a lot of pressure on children, resulting in increased anxiety and stress. Teaching them how to slow down and practice the mindfulness of meditative contemplation is essential to helping them develop strategies to overcome this stress, while positively contributing to their mental, emotional and intellectual development.
It is important for adults to be able to pause and reflect in times of stress, but it is equally of importance for children who can often become overwhelmed. Learning to meditate teaches children the core skills necessary for emotional regulation, including breathing techniques, recognising signs of anxiety, and redirecting focus to the present.
Equipping children with these skills to combat stress, anxiety and panic attacks not only improves their overall wellbeing, but also redresses the detrimental impact these can have on their studies and academic achievement.
Increased focus and attention
Meditation and mindfulness are particularly effective at redirecting attention to the present moment, and encouraging children to focus on the here and now. This is useful for aiding concentration in class, and developing focusing skills. While this has an obvious benefit to academic performance, it also helps children struggling with ADHD or even PTSD.
The BBC reported on an experiment run by a group of schoolchildren, where half practised five minutes of mindful meditation each day, while the other half formed a control group. At the end of a two-week period, those who had taken part in meditation were able to complete a concentration task an average of 2.15 times more than before, while the control group improved by just 0.69 times.
Boosts mental health
Many mental health conditions that manifest later in life are rooted in experiences that happened at a younger age. Teaching children to meditate from a young age enables them to develop a skill that can have long-lasting positive effects on their mental wellbeing.
When regularly practiced, meditation can help children to maintain their happiness and sense of peace, despite external stressors and situations that may be beyond their control. It promotes a healthy coping strategy to the stresses they face throughout their academic lives, while preventing mood disturbances and negativity that may impact their studies.
Regular meditation can lead to increased pro-social behaviours in children, with one analysis from The Journal of Child and Family Studies finding that teaching mindfulness techniques can boost both empathy and compassion in children.
For children with behavioural issues, or those who have experienced trauma, meditation and mindfulness is a powerful way to rebuild their empathy, resilience and emotional control. This not only leads to better overall behaviour, but encourages children to be more connected to, and respectful of, others.
Teaching this skill from an early age is particularly beneficial, as it can prevent minor behavioural issues turning into problems that are much harder to address in adolescence or early adulthood.
Builds confidence and self-esteem
Many children can feel as though they do not measure up to the academic expectations placed on them, leading to low self-esteem. Meditation gives children an opportunity to get to know themselves, and bolster their feelings of security.
Mindfulness teaches children that they do not have to react to all their thoughts and emotions, and this in turn promotes greater levels of self-awareness and confidence. Confident children are less likely to have those feelings of not being good enough, and are better equipped to deal with stressful or unfamiliar situations, leading to better academic performance, and happier, more well-adjusted individuals.
Meditation is a powerful and easy way to equip children with the skills they need to succeed in school and life outside the classroom. Incorporating meditation and mindfulness into their daily routines, even for as little as five minutes a day, can significantly improve behaviour, mental health and academic performance. It is a lifelong skill they will carry through their academic years and beyond; changing not only their lives, but the lives of future generations to come.
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