Meditation Helps Kids Chill Out, Reduce Impulsivity
- By LIZ NEPORENT (@lizzyfit)
May 21, 2013
The words "zen" and "child" don't exactly go together,
but that hasn't stopped a growing number of parents from
"ohm schooling" their kids in the art of yoga, meditation
Andrew Kelly of Boston said he and his 10-year-old son,
Hayden, have been meditating together since Hayden was
7 years old. Each morning before school, father and son
sit on cushions, legs crossed, eyes closed, quietly
monitoring the rise and fall of their chests as they breathe.
"We do this for exactly 12 minutes because 12 is his
favorite number," Kelly explained.
Kelly said they practice "mindfulness" -- a series of
meditation techniques that slow the mind and fix attention
on the present. The brain chills out, slows down and
focuses on what is happening at the moment.
Teaching meditation to children has attracted some
high-profile advocates. Perhaps the highest-profile
children's meditation advocate is actress Goldie Hawn,
whose MindUp program has shown more than 150,000 children
worldwide how to find their brain's happy place.
"We teach the kids to take brain breaks, because every
brain needs a break, and because we know that meditation
builds a stronger brain," Hawn told ABCNews.com "We start
them on these mindfulness and relaxation techniques very
young so they can carry them their entire lives."
Hawn said she has spent the past 10 years studying how
the brain works and consulting with neurologists and
psychologists to create her program. For the stressed-out
kids she can't reach directly, she's written a guidebook,
"10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children -- and Ourselves
-- the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and
Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives," which takes parents
and educators through a step-by-step meditation practice
suitable for kids of all ages.
Film director David Lynch started a foundation eight years
ago to provide scholarships for school-age children all
over the world to study transcendental meditation.
And Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, championed "The Skills for Life"
program that teaches deep breathing exercises, meditation
and problem solving as part of the elementary school
curriculum in several Ohio school districts.
Studies seem to emphasize the benefits of meditation.
A University of California, Los Angeles study found
second- and third-graders who practiced "mindful"
meditation techniques for 30 minutes twice a week for
eight weeks had improved behavior and scored higher on
tests requiring memory, attention and focus than the
Another study of more than 3,000 children in the San
Francisco Unified School District found a dramatic
improvement in math test scores and overall academic
performance among students who practiced transcendental
meditation, a form of mediation that promotes relaxation
and "an awakening" of the mind. The study also found a
decrease in student suspensions, expulsions and dropout rates.
And other recent studies have demonstrated the ability
of "mindfulness" techniques, especially those used in meditation,
yoga and tai chi, to reduce impulsiveness, control emotions
and ease stress.
Children today are certainly more stressed out than their
parents likely realize. One in five children said they
worried a lot or a great deal about things going on in
their lives, and more than 30 percent admitted to such
stress-related symptoms as difficulty sleeping, according
to the American Psychological Association's annual Stress
in America report. Yet, the same report found that only 8
percent of parents were aware that their children experienced
any stress at all.
Despite some high-profile Hollywood interest, kids meditation
is mainly a grassroots movement that is slowly gaining a
toehold in schools, small studios and homes across the
Kelly, the Boston father who has meditated with his son
for three years, founded a children's meditation program
called Boston Buddha four years ago and began teaching
"mindfulness" techniques to K-5 students in the Milton,
Mass., School District.
His youngest students -- second-graders and below --
practice a series of exercises that focus on the five senses.
This, he said, helps them learn how the sound of a pencil
tapping, the smell of pizza or the sight of a classmate
fidgeting can distract them.
"The magic moment where they understand mindfulness is
when they can catch themselves not paying attention.
That's their chance to control their impulsivity. It helps
them stop themselves from doing things like jumping on the
couch or whacking their younger brother," Kelly said.
For parents who can't find a nearby program or, like Kelly,
is willing to teach meditation techniques to their children themselves, there are plenty of resources.
The Teach Children Meditation Facebook fan page advises
parents on how to teach their kids to meditate. There are
also dozens of podcasts, audio recordings and websites
dedicated to children's meditation.
And, of course, there's even an app for meditation: The Smiling
Mind website and free smartphone app have downloadable programs
that lead children as young as 7 through a mindfulness
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