31 Jan Mindfulness Lessons from a Toddler: Part 3– Focusing the Minds of our Children
I hope my first two blog posts on this topic have made it abundantly clear that I am not a Zen master. I do not meditate for hours in my own time nor do I expect you to teach your children to meditate. Rather, I want to emphasize that mindfulness has much broader applications than its historical roots in Buddhism.
The Western-influenced and more modern practice of mindfulness can also do wonders for our brains, bodies, and overall quality of life. By focusing attention completely in the present moment with an attitude of acceptance and curiosity (not judgment and shame), we are able to fully experience whatever we are doing, whether that is taking a shower, eating a meal, playing with our kids, etc. We can gain the full benefits that these ordinary experiences have to offer—relaxation, nutrition, joy, contentment!
These benefits are not just for adults but extend to children and teenagers as well. In fact, I believe our kids are at even greater risk for mindless thoughts and behaviors given their less developed prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for attentional control, inhibition, emotion regulation, among other things). As such, our kids are more susceptible to distractions, impulse control difficulties, and getting swept up by their intense emotions.
Nowadays, all children are living in a world full of distractions (hello, social media) and it feels like it’s hard to escape them. The days of running around the neighborhood until dusk are long gone for our kiddos. Technology has taken its place and children have little opportunity to escape the barrage of information, compulsive checking, and social comparisons. “Addiction” to technology and social media is a real thing and is accompanied by constant dopamine spikes (experiences of pleasure and motivation to seek more) in their developing brains. This intense brain activity takes a toll on our kids’ minds and bodies, which contributes to:
- Stress and anxiety
- Feelings of isolation
- Depressed mood
- Feelings of inferiority/ lack of confidence
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Insomnia/ fatigue
Sadly, these distractions may be even harder to outrun than technology. Altogether, I believe children are living in a more mindless and scattered state than ever before. Fortunately, young minds have what’s called “neuroplasticity,” which is the brain’s ability to use new experiences to create structural and functional changes. Study after study has been released showing real brain changes associated with mindfulness practice, such as decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala (which reflects reduced stress/anxiety), increases in cortical thickness in the hippocampus (which reflects improved learning and memory) and in certain areas of brain that control self-referential processing (which reflects less “wandering” mind).
Check out this article to learn more: Meditation and the Brain
While I do not believe mindfulness is a cure-all, I do think it would be interesting if young kids and teens diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, or depression were prescribed a course of mindfulness before or, at least, along with medication. It could be a vital component of treatment that provides children with a sense of empowerment as they will gain control over their own thoughts and feelings.
For now, take a look at some of these kid-friendly mindfulness apps:
If you are looking for screen-free options, here is a list of mindfulness books: Mindfulness Books for Kids
I would love to hear what apps or books worked for you and your kiddos. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org share your thoughts.