- Children who practice mindfulness can make better choices (regularly).
- Mindfulness practices don't need to be time consuming.
- One mindfulness activity daily with a child can make a big difference.
Children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. Habits formed early in life will inform behaviors in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our children the habit of being peaceful, kind, and accepting. -David Gelles
Over the years, I often get the question, "What is the one thing you can recommend for parents, teachers, and professionals to help children today?" Oftentimes, I suggest adding a mindfulness activity to the daily routine. Not something that takes a ton of time, but something that can help a child learn how to slow down, calm, and make better choices, little by little. If life is ultimately the summation of our choices, how we learn to course-correct (keep making better choices as we go) is an essential skill of resilience, emotional health, and ultimately, happier life experiences.
The Power of Slowing Down
Children who learn how to slow down (mindfulness) versus speed up (mindlessness) are cultivating the capacity to make better choices (see PT blog, Mindfulness in Children). They are simply hardwiring their brain optimally earlier in life, which gives them the increased ability to regulate their emotions and demonstrate cognitive control, by choosing their thoughts, for example. Or as New York Times reporter David Gelles puts it, “Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood.”
In other words, the parts of the brain that are trained by mindful strategies are the same ones that help your child cultivate emotional awareness and balance. Research shows that children who participate in mindfulness strategies in the classroom (virtual or in-person) are significantly more likely to display cooperative and pro-social behaviors. Studies also suggest mindfulness practices at home can produce positive outcomes too.
Noah, 8, learned in his third-grade Zoom class how to take deep breaths to calm down, a very effective mindfulness tool. Before he began using this tool, he often did things he later regretted, like pushing his sister or screaming at his mom during the nightly bedtime routine. But with the addition of deep breaths, Noah has been able to calm himself more often and not have as many outbursts.
What mindfulness tools like Noah’s deep breaths do is create space between stimulus and response so that children can make smarter choices. When Noah functioned on automatic, he screamed, pushed, and chose to react negatively, which didn’t help him or anyone else. But with the addition of mindfulness, he slowed down and began to see that he had more options (especially when he was challenged with his sister) for handling what was often problematic for him.
Digitale, Erin (2021). Mindfulness Training Helps Kids Sleep Better. Accessible here: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2021/07/mindfulness-training-hel…
Gelles, David (2017). Mindfulness for Children. Accessible here: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/mindfulness-for-children
Healy, Maureen (2018). The Emotionally Healthy Child. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Healy, Maureen (2012). Growing Happy Kids. Deerfield, FL: HCI Books.
Sciutto, M.J., Veres, D.A., Marinstein, T.L. et al. Effects of a School-Based Mindfulness Program for Young Children. J Child Fam Stud 30, 1516–1527 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-01955-x