Can Kids Benefit from Mindfulness Training?

Can Kids Benefit from Mindfulness Training?

By Jim Windell

             Most psychologists know that mindfulness training is a useful tool for treating clients. And for good reason. Researchers have found that practicing mindfulness and meditation can improve the immune system, lower blood pressure and even bring about changes in brain structure and function.

           Many psychologists use mindfulness training in their own lives to deal with stress and anxiety.

           But what may not be clear to most psychologists is whether children can benefit from mindfulness training.

           Can children be trained to use mindfulness practices? Could such practices play a role in the lives of youngsters?

           Almost all of the research on mindfulness has been conducted with adults, however, some recent studies suggest that mindfulness and meditation can also be beneficial for children and teens.

           Hillary Marusak, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine, contends that mindfulness and meditation may be especially beneficial for children and teens. In a recent article in the online website of opinions The Conversation, Dr. Marusak says that mindfulness and mediation “may strengthen brain circuits that control the ability to focus and concentrate and to regulate emotions, which are maturing during this time.” She also adds that “Establishing these habits early in life may also set the stage for good habits later in life.”

           Dr. Marusak and her research team have been conducting studies to better understand mindfulness in children. They conducted one study to examine how mindfulness relates to brain connectivity in children and adolescents by scanning the brains of 42 seven to 17-year-olds using functional magnetic resonance imaging. During this study they also measured their degree of “trait mindfulness,” which measures how naturally mindful they are.

           In The Conversation article, she points out that more mindful children are better able to “act with awareness and to observe and accept their internal experiences without judging them.” In addition, they found that more mindful young people reported lower anxiety levels, and that “their brains more frequently transitioned between different connectivity states throughout the scan.” She explains that this means that the more mindful children in the study were better able to flexibly shift in and out of different brain states throughout the course of the scan. Also, the more flexible their brains were, the less anxiety they reported.

           Dr. Marusak indicates that research shows that mindfulness is linked to lower stress and anxiety, and improvements in self-control, attention, resilience and better academic performance in children and teens. She says that mindfulness-based therapies have also shown to be effective for treating common childhood disorders like anxiety and ADHD. Dr. Marusak and her team have also found that a martial arts-based therapy that integrates mindfulness and meditation techniques can help children with cancer and other chronic conditions cope with pain and emotional distress.

           To read a recent research article on children and mindfulness, find it at:

Marusak, H. A., Elrahal, F., Peters, C. A., Kundu, P., Lombardo, M. V., Calhoun, V. D., ... & Rabinak, C. A. (2018). Mindfulness and dynamic functional neural connectivity in children and adolescents. Behavioural Brain Research, 336, 211-218.

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