Like physical health, mental health exists on a spectrum. We will all slide along that spectrum to varying degrees from time to time, and kids and teens are just as vulnerable to the dips. Increasingly (pleasingly!), research is focusing on the positive ways we can strengthen our mental health. In study after study, mindfulness meditation keeps coming up as a powerful way to do this.
What’s so great about mindfulness?
Mindfulness changes the structure and function of the brain in positive ways. Research has unlocked some of its wonders, but there will be more to come. The many positive benefits of mindfulness (and there are many!) include decreased anxiety, preservation of the brain’s gray matter (the tissue that contains the neurons), reduced depression and stress, and improved sleep quality – just to name a few.
We know that mindfulness does great things for adults, kids and adolescents, but until now, there has been little scientific proof about the benefits of incorporating a practice of mindfulness in the classroom.
Mindfulness and kids – An important study.
Recently, twelve Australian schools took part in a mindfulness meditation trial, to see if mindfulness could make a positive difference for students and teachers.
‘This is the largest study that we are aware of, worldwide, to evaluate the use of technology to support teachers to integrate mindfulness directly into their classrooms. The results of the study clearly demonstrate the capacity for our programs to positively impact on student and teacher wellbeing in a scalable and accessible way.’ – Dr Addie Wooten, Smiling Mind CEO.
The study involved seven inner metro schools, four outer metro schools, and one regional school. Altogether, 1853 students and 104 took part. Teachers were trained in mindfulness and the Smiling Mind program, and they participated in the five-week program. The students involved in the study were randomly assigned into two groups – one group did the mindfulness meditation and the other didn’t. Teachers and students were asked to use the program at least three times per week.
At the end of the trial, teachers and students reported significant improvements across a number of key areas, including sleep quality, well-being, the ability to manage and accept emotions, concentration, and school behaviour. The students who reported the biggest improvements were the ones who had greater levels of emotional distress at the beginning of the program.
Importantly, there were also significant reductions in bullying and disruptive behavior in the classroom.
Positive results from using mindfulness in the classroom have been found in a wide variety of government and non-government schools, in classes of all sizes and with kids of diverse backgrounds, locations and ages.
‘Mindfulness brings you to the present moment. It helps kids grapple with anxiety and emotions. Meditation regulates your emotions and provides a space between how you feel and how you react.’ Jane Martino, Smiling Mind founder.
But it doesn’t have to stay in the classroom.
Classroom, bedroom, home, car, outside – it doesn’t matter where mindfulness happens, just as long as it happens. The classroom is just one way to introduce a regular mindfulness practice to children but there are plenty. The important thing is to do something, and do it regularly.
Mindfulness involves being completely present for a while. Think of it like ‘watching’ thoughts and experiences (what you see, feel, hear) come and go, rather than letting them stay for long enough to turn into a worry or a feeling that stays too long, and intrudes too much (and we all have them!). Smiling Mind has created a mindfulness app which has several different mindfulness programs. It was developed by psychologists for people of all ages and can be downloaded for free here. For other fun, practical ways to introduce kids to a regular mindfulness practice, see here.
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