For years, my children and I have been practising some forms of meditation in a science-based non-religious way. Recent scientific studies are confirming the benefits, something that all parents and teachers must know.
Mindfulness vs Meditation
To clear things up, this is a brief explanation of mindfulness and meditation, which are different:
- Mindfulness: an awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally — Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
- Meditation: a mind-body method. This category includes interventions that employ a variety of techniques designed to facilitate the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. In meditation, a person learns to focus attention. Some forms of meditation instruct the student to become mindful of thoughts, feelings, and sensations and to observe them in a nonjudgmental way. — The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
In short, there are many techniques for meditation and mindfulness is one of them. That is, mindfulness is a subset of meditation.
What are the benefits?
Most relevant to me as a parent are these:
1. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
The results in Hölzel et al.’s research (2011) suggest that participation in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme is associated with “changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking”.
Other studies show that:
- the amygdala (responsible for fight-or-flight response) is less activated
- the hippocampus (critical to learning and memory) is more active
- the prefrontal cortex (associated with maturity) is more activated
This means the person could learn and make better behavioural decisions. Better behaviour?!? As a mum to three super-active boys, this IS just what I need.
2. Mindfulness training improves memory and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering
Mrazek et al. (2013) found out that a 2-week mindfulness-training course “is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences”.
Two weeks to improve results in a relaxed way? Yes, for us please!
3. Mindfulness-based programmes can help improve students’ social-emotional skills and well-being
In a San Francisco school, after implementing a meditation programme over a four-year period, it was reported that “suspensions decreased by 79 percent and attendance and academic performance noticeably increased”.
Summary of areas of reported improvements:
- emotional regulation
- behaviour in school
- empathy and perspective-taking
- social skills
- test anxiety
- post-traumatic symptoms
(For the full list of references, check out Mindful Schools website here.)
With such a truckload of potential benefits, I’d highly recommend mindfulness and meditation to every parent.
How to practise?
For a start, these are some simple activities you could do with your child:
- deep breathing and
- relaxation activities before home lessons / tackling homework / potentially-stressful music practice etc.
- Montessori Silence Game
- playing alpha music for relaxation during work periods
- encouraging mindfulness during daily activities such as eating
- gratitude exercise (“Today, I am grateful for … “)
Here’s a recap on the previous article I wrote on the activities:
Even when the day turns out challenging, once I remember to implement some of the above techniques, we can recover rather soon.
And remember to practise the activities yourself so that you reap the benefits too. As a parent, I’d want to be smart, calm, creative and have enough positive energy to last through a long emotionally-challenging day. Meditation every day certainly helps me to achieve these goals.
Our family has been using these books:
If you’ve got a nerdy appetite too, check out the following resources:
- Mindful Schools
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course, The Center for Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts Medical School
- Online MBSR Course at Palouse Mindfulness – free
- MindUP™ teaching framework, The Hawn Foundation
Hope you found the information useful and happy teaching your child(ren)!
P.S. Check out my workshops here
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