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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 4, No. 1 - January/February 2012

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Mindfulness for Managing Your Kids' Stress

By Kara Matheson

Children's lives are increasingly stressful. Many children feel stressed from living in our fast-paced, media-saturated, multi-tasking world, and many are stressed about performing and succeeding.

An alarming number of children are being diagnosed with ADHD, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviours.

Mindfulness teaches children and teens skills to manage the stresses of modern life, and scientific research is showing that it works.

In a randomised controlled trial conducted by Maria Napoli, Ph.D., 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders participated in a bi-weekly, 12 session program of mindfulness and relaxation.

The children showed significant increases in attention and social skills, decreases in test anxiety and ADHD behaviours at the end of the course, and in repeated measurements three months after their training.

A study conducted by Amy Saltzman, M.D., in collaboration with the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, with 4th - 7th graders and their parents, showed that after one hour of mindfulness training for eight consecutive weeks, the children demonstrated increased ability to reorient their attention to learning and had decreased anxiety.

In research on teaching mindfulness to adolescents conducted by Gina Biegel M.A., MFT, teens reported reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatic (physical) distress, and increased self-esteem and sleep quality. Independent clinicians documented greater improvement in the mindfulness group versus the control group.

When children and teens learn mindfulness they:

  • Practice bringing their attention to their present moment experience
  • Exercise the 'muscle of their attention'
  • Learn to do so with compassion

Learning mindfulness in a group with their peers, they discover that they are not alone in their struggles, and have the opportunity to connect with others honestly and authentically in a safe space.

One activity which is used to practice mindfulness is mindful eating. Every step of eating slows down so that it can be noticed: the thoughts that are present before the food is eaten, the appearance of the food, the smell of the food, the feel of the food in the mouth, as it is bitten, and as it is swallowed.

Participants discover how much they notice when they slow down enough to observe the details of their experience, and can begin to see how much of their experience they are missing.

For parents, mindfulness awareness can help you tune into your kids' needs and feelings in a way that's healthy for both of you. Mindfulness training has numerous benefits for parents including:

  • Improved attention
  • Heightened empathy
  • Less anxiety & depression
  • Better communication with kids
  • Increased ability to handle stress
  • Increased benefits in the health & functioning of the brain

Teaching mindfulness to kids and teens has been described by Amy Saltzman M.D. as "the truest form of preventive medicine I know."

About Kara Matheson

Kara Matheson is an experienced teacher, having taught for over 15 years, in high schools and at TAFE. Kara is a trained teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for adults and children, and currently offers face-to-face and online courses in mindfulness for parents, kids, and teens.

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