Experts Say, Mindfulness For Children is “No Fad” Either.
The real experts are the children. “Jessica”, a fourth grade student, participated in a Still Quiet Place course, an eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course offered at Henry Ford Elementary School. The school serves a low-income population in Redwood City, California. On the last day of class “Jessica” wrote
When I am sad or kind of in a bad mood I take about 10 breaths and I get relaxed. I also forget about my worries. I learned this from Mindfulness. I enjoy coming here because I forget about my troubles and I forget about all the things in my life that is sad. My sadness just fades.
Jessica’s statement, suggests that perhaps Dr. Hoffman’s perception (reported in the article Mindfulness is No Fad, Experts Say, January 8th , 2011) that children may have trouble understanding or embracing Mindfulness is in error. Not only do children and adolescents understand and embrace Mindfulness, recent cutting-edge research indicates they can reap benefits from practicing Mindfulness, similar to those documented in adults.
As Mr. Woolston’s article highlighted, over 30 years of scientific research with adults has shown that Mindfulness decreases stress, depression, anxiety, and hostility, and enhances compassion, empathy and executive function; executive function is a term that describes the related processes of goal-directed behavior, planning, organized search and impulse control. As a pioneer in the emerging field of offering Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to children and teens please allow me to share the ground-breaking work indicating that Mindfulness for children is “no fad” either.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity. This ability to pay attention is a natural, innate human capacity. Children as young as three can learn to attend to the breath,the five senses, thoughts, and emotions. Slightly older children can attend to impulses and actions, and their effects on others and the world.
For the last decade, colleagues and I have been offering age-adapted Mindfulness-based curricula to at risk youth. (See side bar) Unfortunately, research by Soniya Luthar Ph. D. from Columbia Teachers College shows that many of our youth are at risk. Her data indicate that affluent teens have rates of depression, anxiety and illicit drug similar to their low-income peers. Daily headlines remind us that our children are being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, cutting, addictions, suicidal tendencies and other self-destructive behaviors at epidemic rates; cruelty, bullying and violence are on the rise. Most, if not all of our children could benefit from learning to focus their attention, to become less reactive, and to be more compassionate with themselves and others. Those of us involved in this emerging field are motivated by a shared commitment to offer children and adolescents life long skills that will enhance their well-being. We are rigorously investigating whether children and adolescents can reap benefits from practicing Mindfulness, similar to those extensively documented in adults.
For the last decade we have been working in clinics and schools to scientifically assess whether Mindfulness training can enhance children’s attention, executive function, learning, compassion, empathy and general well-being. The preliminary data are encouraging; below are summaries of four recent studies that demonstrate the benefits of offering Mindfulness children and adolescents.
In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Maria Napoli, Ph.D., first, second, and third graders participated in a bi-weekly, 12-session integrative program of Mindfulness and relaxation. The students showed significant increases in attention and social skills, and decreases in test anxiety and ADHD behaviors.
Lisa Flook, Ph.D. and her colleagues at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA studied second and third graders who did Mindfulness Awareness Practices for 30 minutes twice a week for 8 weeks. Children who began the study with poor executive function had gains in behavioral regulation, meta-cognition, and overall global executive control. These results indicate training in Mindfulness benefits children with executive function difficulties (the children most likely to have difficulties and cause disruptions in the classroom) .
In a study with 4th-7th graders and their parents, that I conducted in collaboration with the Department of Psychology at Stanford, the children participated in 75 minutes of Mindfulness training for 8 consecutive weeks. At the conclusion of the study the children demonstrated increased ability to orient their attention, as measured by an objective computerized Attention Network Task, and decreased anxiety. In written narrative the children also reported decreased emotional reactivity, and increased impulse control.
In research on teaching Mindfulness to adolescents conducted by Gina Biegel, MA, MFT, the teens reported reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and somatic (physical) distress, and increased self-esteem and sleep quality. Independent clinicians documented a higher percentage of diagnostic improvement in the Mindfulness group (vs. the control group). In layperson’s terms, this means that adolescents who were initially diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety were no longer depressed or anxious.
While these studies are preliminary, they reinforce what “Jessica”, in 4th grade, already knows—Mindfulness for Children is “No Passing Fad”. In closing I’ll defer to another expert, a fifth grade girl from Menlo Park, California.
Mindfulness is a great class because you can chill out, and relax. It will cool you down and make you less stressed. You should try it if you are mad or sad or just want to feel better. That’s what I do. Try it!
 Luthar, S., The Culture of Affluence; the Psychological Costs of Material Wealth, Child Development, 2003; 74 (6), 1581-1593.
 Napoli, M. ”Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students: The Attention Academy” Journal of Applied School Psychology (2005) Vol. 21(1)
 Flook, L. “Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children” Journal of Applied School Psychology (2010) 26: 1, 70 -95
 Saltzman, A., (2008) “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for School-Age Children, 139-162. In L. Grecco, Acceptance and Mindfulness Treatments for Children and Adolescents: A Practitioner’ Guide, Oakland, New Harbinger, 2008,
 Biegel, G. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for the Treatment of Adolescent
Psychiatric Outpatients: A Randomized Clinical Trial” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2009) Vol. 77, No. 5: 855–866