Mentally healthy children are happy children, and evidence suggests1 that half of all mental health conditions emerge by the age of 14. Research also indicates2 that mindfulness meditation could play a role in good mental health, but could it benefit children in their efforts at school as well?
What is mindfulness meditation?
Many people think mindfulness meditation requires you to clear your mind of all thoughts. But practising mindful meditation is actually a lot easier than you think. Medibank is proud to be the Official Health Partner of Smiling Mind, who advise that “mindfulness does not ask us to stop or control our thoughts, judgements or negative experiences. Rather, it asks that within our experiences, we simply pay attention to what is happening in the moment.”
Mindfulness meditation is designed to strengthen the mind and its ability to focus and pay attention. It can also help us to reduce worries and stress in our day to day life.
The mental health of Australian children
Many of us look at our childhood through rose-tinted lenses; we remember a time of not having any worries, being care-free and having no fears. But recent data tells a different story, with studies3 showing that around one in seven Australian children aged 4-17 have experienced a mental health condition.
Smiling Mind is an Australian not-for-profit on a mission to provide accessible tools and resources to support healthy minds. When they looked at the incidences of mental health conditions in Australian youth, Smiling Mind recognised the need for a preventative approach to mental health for children. As a result, the Smiling Mind Mindfulness Curriculum was developed.
The benefits of mindfulness for kids at school
The Mindfulness in Schools program is designed to bridge the gap between students’ day-to-day wellbeing and their academic achievement. Broadly speaking, the program teaches students how they can use mindfulness in their everyday lives, from learning attention skills and strategies, to learning how to cultivate a growth mindset and a curious mind through non-judgement and openness.
In 2016, researchers from Deakin University surveyed2 over 100 teachers and almost 2,000 students to uncover the impact of the ‘Mindfulness in Schools’ program. After completing the program, which involved lesson plans and guided meditations over the course of a year, students reported:
- Improved mental health
- Better sleep quality
- Greater general wellbeing
- Ability to manage emotions
- Improved concentration
- Reduced disruptive behaviour in the classroom
- Reduced incidences of bullying
The report also found students who had experienced higher levels of emotional distress in the past showed the biggest improvements at the end of the program. Mindfulness teaches children skills that enable them to participate in learning with a calmer approach while also strengthening and enhancing the part of their brain that controls attention, memory, regulation of emotions and self-awareness. As a result, students who meditate regularly have been found to experience less stress, anxiety and depression, have better social skills and academic results, and higher self-esteem.
Tips to encourage a meditation practice with your child
If you’d like your child to experience the benefits of meditation, why not introduce a family meditation practice into your home? Not only will it benefit them, but it could benefit the whole family as well. Together with Smiling Mind, here are our top tips to establish a meditation practise with your child:
- Set a regular time: The beginning or the end of the day is a good time to practice meditation with your child. Pick a time and stick to it — this will help to set a routine for everyone.
- Establish a cosy space: Make a space that is a meditation-only zone. Make sure it has a comfortable spot to sit and relax.
- Use a guided app: Apps like Smiling Mind offer meditations guided by experts. The app offers age-specific meditations too, from three years all the way to adults. There’s even programs created just for families to do together — check out the Mindfully Together module.
- Debrief when it’s done: Straight after your meditation session, have a quick debrief with your child. Ask them what their experiences were, what they learnt and how they feel after they finished. You can use this time to normalise any physical or emotional reactions your child may have had during the session.
- Manage your expectations: do your best to remember that mindfulness comes more easily to some than others, children and adults alike. While it’s natural to want your child to gain the benefits of meditation, try not to force it on them. Instead, provide your child with opportunities that allow them to come to mindfulness in their own time and at their own pace.
For the best results for you and your child, you should try to practice meditation at least three times a week.
To access all free content within the Smiling Mind Family Program, created in collaboration with Medibank, download the Smiling Mind app today (available on iOS and Android) and navigate to Family Program under All Programs.