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Top 5 Mindfulness-Based Apps for Kids

New research reviews mindfulness apps for children.

Source: jarmoluk/Pixabay
Source: jarmoluk/Pixabay

Sending one’s child to school during the COVID-19 pandemic can be quite anxiety-provoking for parents. But schools—with social distancing, masks, and other reminders about the coronavirus—have been stressful for children too. One approach to stress-reduction is the regular practice of mindfulness meditation. Nurturing mindfulness can improve self-regulation and is an effective way to promote resilience in children.

So, how do we encourage children to practice mindfulness? Perhaps mindfulness apps can be of help. In today’s post, I review new research, published in the September issue of Mindfulness, by Nunes and colleagues, which examines the usefulness of various mindfulness apps for children.

Sample and research methods

Using three selection criteria—apps related to mindfulness, in English, and suitable for children—a search identified 57 apps (of a total of 1933 apps).

To evaluate the quality of these mindfulness apps, the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) was used.

MARS consists of various items organized in the following dimensions:

  • Engagement: High engagement means the app is interesting, entertaining, interactive, customizable, and targets its audience well.
  • Functionality: High functionality is associated with great performance, navigation, design, and ease of use.
  • Aesthetics: High scores on aesthetics means great graphic design, color scheme, and style.
  • Information: Informative apps contain accurate descriptions of what the app is and does. They also list goals that are measurable and achievable. Furthermore, they contain relevant, evidence-based, and high-quality content.

A team of six experts (doctoral students and research assistants) rated the apps using the MARS criteria. For each app, the average score across judges was calculated for each dimension.

The best apps for mindfulness

Of the 57 apps, the effectiveness of just two had been the subject of previous investigations (and in adults only). Specifically, previous studies had concluded that “Headspace” increases mindfulness and “Smiling Mind” improves resilience and depressive symptoms.

In terms of content, many of the apps reviewed included audio files of guided meditations. The guided meditations lead the users in different activities (e.g., breathing, paying attention to bodily sensations).

These practices help children become more self-aware. They are important components of mindfulness meditation practices and have the potential to reduce mind wandering and improve focus.

Of the 57 apps reviewed, only the free apps (38) were further analyzed, though two other apps were also excluded due to technical problems.

Five of the 36 apps received, upon further analysis, a rating of 4 and higher for the overall quality. These apps are listed below:

  1. Mindfulness with Petit BamBou (4.33)
  2. Headspace: Meditation and Mindfulness (4.26)
  3. Breethe—Guided Meditation and Mindfulness (4.20)
  4. Stop, Breathe & Think Kids (4.20)
  5. Serenity: Guided Meditation (4.11)

The lowest score obtained by an app was 2.27.

Overall, the 36 free apps “had a good level of functionality and acceptable levels of information, aesthetics, and engagement.”

More research is needed to determine if high-scoring apps really do help teach children mindfulness and encourage them to practice mindfulness regularly.

Source: pixa EME/Pixabay
Source: pixa EME/Pixabay

Concluding thoughts

In general, for apps to appeal to children, they need to be fun, interactive, easy to use, and stylish (but with a clean layout); furthermore, the information presented must be relevant (e.g., age-appropriate) and easily understandable.

One of the main benefits of using mindfulness apps, compared to books on mindfulness, is the addition of video and audio content that explain and complement the written content. Video/audio content has the potential to make the overall experience more engaging, interactive, and fun.

Program-based mindfulness training, which was included in less than a quarter of the apps reviewed, is also important. After all, achieving positive results or lasting health benefits requires the regular practice of mindfulness meditation. Only occasional use of these apps will provide less benefit.

One final note: By the time you read this post, some of the apps mentioned in the study might not be available (or no longer offer free content). So please review the description of each app and try it before encouraging your child to use it. Test it out. If you do not practice mindfulness yourself, try the app for a week or two to see if the explanation and instructions are accurate and simple enough to follow.

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