As a therapist and child development expert for over 20 years, I've learned a lot about the powerful of mindfulness.
Sure, children are born with different personalities and temperaments; some are impulsive while others may be more cautious or tentative. But no matter what your child's character, there's plenty of evidence that mindfulness is a powerful tool that can better many aspects of his or her life. Here are some of the biggest benefits of mindfulness, according to research:
It improves social skills. In a study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, children who were taught mindfulness skills showed a 24% improvement in social behaviors. They were less aggressive and more empathetic and optimistic than peers without the training.
It boosts school performance. The Developmental Psychology report also found that math scores for children with mindfulness training increased 15%. Plus, there were measurable improvements in sustained attention in class. A mindfulness practice empowers children with the ability to self-soothe, quiet their thoughts, and focus on the tasks before them.
It fosters creativity. Stress is the enemy of creativity. Scientists at Harvard showed through neuro-imaging technology that meditation reduced hormones that produce stress and anxiety. Creativeness and inspiration naturally spring from children who experience less emotional tension. As they develop the ability to quiet their thoughts, they are more capable of engaging in artistic activities such as drawing or playing an instrument.
It reduces impulsivity. Impulsive kids don't look before they leap — and that often gets them into heaps of trouble. Mindfulness helps by putting a reflective pause between impulse and action, and inspires children to make better choices. When a California middle school introduced a mindfulness program to students, suspensions were reduced by 45% during first year, and there was a significant upsurge in attendance and overall grade point averages.
It encourages independent thinking. Mindful children are far less likely to cave to peer pressure. Numerous studies suggest that children introduced to mindfulness experience less social anxiety and symptoms of depression. Such kids have a stronger sense of self, and are less likely to be swayed by schoolyard bullies or seduced into making poor choices.
8 Ways to Raise More Mindful Children
Raising a mindful child does not require moving your family to a monastery. I've seen parents foster it in everyday activities by creating more reflective spaces at home, making room for greater contemplation, and strengthening family communication.
To encourage greater mindfulness with your own kids, consider these eight steps:
1. Take technology blackouts.
Set aside times during the day when no one in your family touches technology. You too, mom and dad! That's right: turn off all cell phones, televisions, computers, etc.
Children who are always engaged in technology are more impulsive and rarely have time for self-reflection, which is the bedrock of mindfulness. If your family is technology dependent, create more quiet space for relating and exchanging thoughts and feelings without a glowing screen between you.
2. Offer creative outlets.
Painting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, sewing, and similar hobbies require thought and patience to follow through to completion. Children who learn to sit quietly and assert themselves to creative tasks are more grounded and self-motivated to succeed. They learn to work through frustration by keeping their eye on the prize.
3. Encourage journal writing.
Journaling is a great tool for developing greater mindfulness. If your child is resistant to starting a diary, start one together. A sense of calm and empowerment emerges when kids take time to create a narrative for their lives and reflect on their daily experiences. A diary also offers them a chance to consider their choices more fully.
4. Hold family meetings.
Family meetings are a great way to introduce structure to household communication. Set aside a time each week, and make sure everyone has the chance to voice his or her concerns. When family members learn to honor each other's feelings and work through frustrations together, a healthy sense of trust and cohesion emerges.
5. Cultivate a meditative practice.
Studies have shown that kids who engage in a mindfulness practice, such as martial arts, yoga, or meditation, experience a greater sense of well-being. They instinctively start to embrace a spirit of self-improvement, which leads to greater inner strength.
6. Nurture altruistic activities.
True mindfulness lives and breathes in the compassionate bonds of friendship and community. Help your child develop a greater sense of interconnectedness through volunteer work, charity or supporting neighborhood projects. Altruism deepens your child's sense of humanity, gratitude and empathy.
7. Organize your child's day.
Kids crave sameness. Even though they may resist boundaries, they fall apart without structure. Strive to create a household of shared responsibilities and dependable schedules. Flexibility is welcome, but you need a baseline of consistency first. Too much chaos or inconsistency in a child's life never allow for mindfulness to take root.
8. Lead by example.
Mindful parent, mindful child. In other words, mindfulness rarely appears organically in children — parents must foster it. What's the best way to introduce mindfulness into your kid's life? Practice what you preach. Develop a mindfulness practice for yourself and demonstrate its power in your own behavior.
Sean Grover, LCSW, author of When Kids Call the Shots, has worked in child development and adult psychotherapy for 20 years, and maintains one of the largest private group therapy practices in the U.S. He has been quoted in Newsweek, New York Magazine, NPR, and elsewhere about parent-child relationships.
For more information please visit seangrover.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.