Can mindfulness help the growing brain in children and adolescents?

24 March 2021 | By Yogobe

Mindfulness can help you focus, feel happier and reduce your anxiety. But what does research say about mindfulness for children? And what happens when schools have mindfulness on the schedule? Read more about how mindfulness can help children and young people – while their brains grow.

Mindfulness for children can lay the foundation for good habits

Mindfulness is a meditation technique that is about learning conscious presence, which increases the feeling of calm in both body and mind. Mindfulness is used today in care and psychotherapy to treat various stress symptoms and states of depression, anxiety and worry. Researchers have also shown that the practice of mindfulness and meditation can improve the immune system, lower blood pressure and even change the structure and function of the brain.

Developmental neurologist Hilary A. Marusak of Wayne State University, USA, has been interested in how mindfulness affects the brains of children and adolescents while it is still developing.

– I believe that mindfulness and meditation may be especially beneficial for children and teens because these skills may strengthen brain circuits that control the ability to focus and concentrate and to regulate emotions, which are maturing during this time. Establishing these habits early in life may also set the stage for good habits later in life, says Hilary A. Marusak.

How does mindfulness work?

When you practice mindfulness, you use all five senses: touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste, to focus on the present moment. One of the most common ways to practice mindfulness is to focus on your own breath.

The tendency for the mind to wander, or lose focus on the present, seems to be a standard state of brain function – and can actually be beneficial. The wandering thoughts can, among other things, trigger creativity. But the wandering mind can also go wrong and lead to excessive worry, focus on negative things or dwelling on the past. Research also shows that we are less happy when thoughts and minds wander than we are when we pay attention to the present.

Mindfulness can also help reduce distraction. Being distracted can disrupt children's ability to handle schoolwork, manage relationships with friends or family, or regulate emotions, which is a problem in today's fast-paced world of distractions everywhere.

Effects of mindfulness on the growing brain

Hilary A. Marusak's study examined how mindfulness affects brain connectivity in children and adolescents. The study scanned the brains of 42 children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 17, using fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Participants' degree of "natural awareness", mindfulness as a trait was also measured.

It turns out that children who are more attentive in the present can act more consciously. They also find it easier to observe and accept their inner experiences without judging them. Adolescents with greater attendance reported lower anxiety levels and their brains switched more often between different connectivity states during the scan.

Greater flexibility in the brain can help explain some of the perceived positive effects of mindfulness training in children and adolescents.

Mindfulness in school

Several schools today use mindfulness as a way to help students in school environment and in everyday life. Swedish television SVT reported, for example, about the International School ISGR in Gothenburg:

– We have noticed fantastic results with calmer and more focused students which has made both mine and their working environment much better, says teacher Camilla Martinsson.

At ISGR, three classes in grade four have done mindfulness exercises for ten minutes a day for just over a year. In 2020, mindfulness was introduced on the schedule in 20 classes at the school.

– There are far fewer social conflicts now. The children can follow the reasoning and join in in a different way, says Camilla Martinsson. Many of the students also say that they sleep better.

Read more about mindfulness in swedish!

Source: Oregon live, SVT, Göteborgs stad

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