JFS Perspectives

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mental Health Matters: Mindfulness in Children

Mental Health Matters: Mindfulness in Children

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and reduce stress, as well as increase one's ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy. Mindfulness is widely considered an effective psychotherapy treatment for adults, children, and adolescents with aggression, ADHD, and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

“Mindful awareness helps students with self-regulation, optimism, and planning and organizational skills,” says Maria Hersey, Ph.D., the U.S. director of education and training at The Hawn Foundation.

In schools where mindful practices have been implemented, the Hawn Foundation says 90 percent of children improved their ability to get along with other children. About 80 percent were more optimistic and had enhanced their self-concept, self-regulation, and self-management. Three-quarters of the children improved their planning and organizational skills, and the same amount had better impulse control and less reactivity.

Teaching Mindfulness to Children

The first rule in authentically teaching a child any new skill is to practice yourself; establish a mindfulness practice into your routine. Starting a day with mindfulness can increase your compassion and optimism, and set a positive tone for the rest of your day. This can take as little as five to 10 minutes a day.

Keep it simple. Mindfulness, put simply, is noticing and being aware. Mindfulness practices are noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.

Be realistic about your expectations. Mindfulness will not silence a noisy house, end tantrums, or stop whining. If those are your goals, you will most likely be disappointed. The purpose of mindfulness is to teach skills to children that will increase their awareness of both internal and external experiences, to view thoughts as malleable, to understand how emotions are manifested in their body, to recognize when their mind wanders, and to provide the foundation for impulse control.

Mindfulness Activities

  1. Breathing: have your child notice their breathing. This is the anchor of mindfulness. Place a stuffed animal on your child’s chest. Have them notice the toy rise and fall with their breath.
  2. Listen to a bell: have your child pay attention to the sound. This can be a bell, chime, or sound from a mindfulness app. Sometimes having a child close their eyes during this activity is helpful; they are able to focus on their active sense.
  3. Establish a gratitude practice: appreciation and gratitude are fundamental concepts in mindfulness. Talk to children about being thankful.
  4. Mindfulness walks: take a 10- to 15-minute walk with your child. Have them notice the colors, sounds, and smells of their environment.

Lisa Rincon

By Lisa Rincon, LCSW. Lisa joined Jewish Family Service in 2016 as the school-based mental health program manager. She has worked in mental health with children and families for more than 10 years in the Denver area. Lisa most recently managed an outpatient team at Aurora Mental Health.

Child meditating image via Shutterstock.


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