Neuroscientists have conducted research on the effects of mindfulness training on the adult mind and found that it can offer many benefits. While not as many such tests have been carried out involving children, the result of those which have been equally promising. No parent or teacher likes to see an overly anxious child. Such a child will, in all likelihood, be subject to stress, temper tantrums. panic attacks, and acting out. Believe me, this is just as hard on the child as it is on the parent. But merely telling a kid to calm down will hardly do the trick. Mindfulness training can help. It teaches the child to let go of those churning thoughts and negative emotions that induce such behavior, and to turn into the sensory world around them, seeing the beauty which surrounds them.

Anxious children may often become overly concerned with disastrous events, worrying about what would or could happen in the future. Or they may dwell on negative experiences from the past and become concerned about their repetition. Mindfulness training teaches the child to focus on the present, and what is happening in the now. They are taught to pay attention to what is going on around them, and not to dwell on real or imagined occurrences. They should find a balance between the heart and the mind and develop a sense of compassion for themselves, as well as others
It is never easy to deal with an anxious child, as any parent or teacher can tell you. But mindfulness training can make it better, and easier, for both of you. And you do not need to send the kid to therapy (although that may be necessary in some cases of a clinical anxiety disorder). You can start your child on the basics of mindfulness training at home, at whatever time you choose. There are many sources online to help you with this. And remember that the training should be tailored to the child’s age. Teenagers will understand the more sophisticated aspects far better than younger kids. A simple way to begin is with a few simple exercises which you can guide them through, hopefully with ease.

First, have the child take a look around and pick out five things. You can turn this into a game, with your going first and them following you. This focuses their brain on the space around them and not on any internal distraction. Next, have them breathe. And not just any normal breathing, but a deep, belly-filling gulp of air. Have them do this slowly and calmly for about ten breaths. You may ask them to put their hand on their bellies so they can feel the air as it fills them. Then have them stand with their feet firmly planted about shoulder-width apart, and imagine that their feet are anchored to the earth. Coach them to stomp the feet firmly, feeling how the muscles in their legs react. Have them touch parts of their body starting from the head down, and look around slowly, seeing, hearing, and smelling everything around them. Finally, give them a small bite of food. Tell them to chew slowly so they can fully savor the experience. Taste it, smell it, feel it. These exercises will help your child to disconnect from any internal turmoil, or just distracting thoughts, and to fully be present, providing a restful and calming break from anxiety for both of you. Encourage them to continue these practices, either with you or on their own whenever they are feeling anxious or stressed.

Depression is the most diagnosed mental illness. The use of prescription antidepressants increased by 27% from 2015 to 2018, and the trend continues. The rate of depression diagnoses has steadily increased over the past seventy years, especially among high school and college students. The use of strong anti=depressants is not an ideal situation, and there even seems to be waiting lists for professionals qualified to treat the condition. Many parents feel helpless when they notice the signs of depression in their children. These signs run the gamut from relatively minor, such as sadness, loss of appetite, irritability, and fatigue to the more serious such as self-harm and thoughts of suicide.

But lately, there has been some evidence that mindfulness training can help alleviate the condition. Quite a bit of this evidence is anecdotal, but there are many studies that support the claim. In 2010 one such test, a small randomized study found that there was a significant reduction in the symptoms of clinical depression when mindfulness techniques were applied. Mindfulness encourages the practitioner to detach themselves from thoughts and emotions, whether they are connected to the past or imagined in the future, and experience the world around them as it is happening. Such practitioners tend to develop a sense of calmness and peace within themselves, learning to discard the negative and embrace the positivity of the present. They learn to regulate their emotions, develop a sense of compassion for others and themselves, and to lower stress and anxiety. All these factors seem to lead to a decrease in their depression.

Having seen how helpful mindfulness can be in alleviating anxiety and depression, it should come as no surprise that it can also reduce isolation. Children will often isolate themselves because of worry or concern about their own worthiness. They may feel no compassion or empathy for classmates or social peers. They may simply believe that they do not belong. But mindfulness training can help them with these matters. It can improve social skills, enabling kids to interact more easily. It can impart a sense of wellbeing, giving confidence. It can also provide resiliency, allowing children to suffer the slings and arrows of normal society without developing debilitating fears of interaction. All of these things can undoubtedly reduce a sense of isolation.

Mindfulness training can be beneficial for kids of all ages. Training can be as simple as a few simple exercises taught at your mother’s knee, to courses offered online or at various institutions. Any time spent will be suitably rewarded.

By Nicholas Wilkinson