Mindfulness Parenting For All
By Anthony Cupo
Mindfulness has been gaining greater support and interest from researchers, clinicians, and educators. However, the effects of mindfulness practice among children are still understudied.
Mindfulness derives from Buddhist practice and is described in the psychological literature as an intentional and non-judgmental awareness of the present moment (Kabat-Zinn,1990). We will look deeper into the meaning of non-judgmental awareness in future articles. For now, let us look at where mindfulness is going and where it has been. During 2012, over 500 scientific articles on mindfulness were published. This was more than the total number of mindfulness articles published between 1980 and 2000. Although this is a small number of articles the research is growing. A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found that 75 percent of general practitioners in the United Kingdom believe that mindfulness is beneficial for patients with mental health problems (MHF, 2010). Evidence that mindful interventions do help students has Teachers and Schools across the country adopting mindfulness-based interventions to help their students avoid anxiety and depression, and improve their focus.
For example, a study of 400 low-income students found that teachers reported students were more focused and compassionate after practicing mindfulness sessions for five weeks.
Others studies suggest that mindfulness interventions, practiced as part of school policy, is associated with decreased impulsivity. Accordingly, introducing mindfulness meditation in elementary schools may help children cope with various difficulties related to attention regulation skills and enhance emotional regulation. Longer periods of meditation may lead to more robust effects. The reviews found a mixed bag of results: Students who participated in mindfulness programs showed small, but significant improvements in cognitive skills and social and emotional behaviors. This makes sense, the authors of the study explain, because those are the skills that mindfulness interventions focus on. But the data did not show that students improved their classroom behaviors or academic achievement as a result of the interventions.
So what does all of this mean?
The review authors concluded that, while mindfulness in schools is popular at the moment, youth may not benefit in the same way that adults do because they may not be developmentally ready for the complex focus and level of awareness these interventions require. Studies have shown a higher efficacy with young adults than with younger children.
The students included in the review were all part of regular classroom populations. While these interventions yield greater improvements for students experiencing anxiety or depression, there is some evidence that mindfulness practices can sometimes worsen symptoms for some people who suffer from mental illnesses when not attended to. Mindfulness-based interventions in the clinical setting like MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) will be the focus of future articles.
Practice is starting to be popular in many schools systems and among politicians. One particular congressman from the Midwest, Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio in 2012 published A Mindful Nation and received a $1 million federal grant to teach mindfulness in schools in his home district. Perhaps not surprisingly, the surge of mindfulness-based approaches has come with critics, some of whom have coined the term “McMindfulness” to highlight the simplistic and commercialized nature of many programs, claims, and offerings.
Some forms of Mindful practices are Yoga, deep breathing, and gratitude exercise to name a few. Like adults, young children Yoga can help eliminate stress. A recent article done by Forbes Magazine talked about the benefits of Yoga and young children. A study from Tulane University, randomized third-graders who had some degree of anxiety to receive either a yoga and mindfulness intervention for eight weeks or to receive usual care. Students in the yoga/mindfulness group had 10 sessions of Yoga Ed. either in the fall or spring; each session lasted 40 minutes, and took place in the classrooms before the school day began. “The session content included breathing exercises, guided relaxation, and several Vinyasa and Ashtanga poses appropriate for third graders,” the authors wrote in their paper.” Students in this study were given regular care, but something was different with them when they started using Yoga.” The intervention improved psychosocial and emotional quality of life scores for students, as compared to their peers who received standard care,” said study author Alessandra Bazzano who in a statement also said: “We also heard from teachers about the benefits of using yoga in the classroom, and they reported students used yoga (mindful interventions) more often each week, and throughout each day in class, following the professional development component of intervention.”
Many in the mindfulness community express concern that the media has overstated the scientific evidence of the benefits of mindfulness—so much so that “misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed. This raises serious questions about where and how mindfulness programs are offered, by whom, and in what context? But they all seem to agree that more studies and research needs to be done on methods used, who uses those methods and the student’s involvement in these studies.
In the coming months, we will take a look at other Mindful practices I will be introducing simple, helpful mindfulness interventions that can be used to help connect your family and help your child become more aware. Self-awareness brings self-compassion and we can all use more self-love.
By Anthony Cupo, he is enrolled in the TMF (Training in Mindfulness Facilitation) Program at UCLA, is an owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC a Mental Health Facility for Children and Young Adults, a Board Member at Western Youth Services and Founder of Flowering Minds a not for profit focused on empowering Child in Haiti.
Being eager about the summer season is a natural, common emotion. There’s nothing like experiencing the bright blue sky, deep green leaves, and endless sunshine. However, all too often in the Electronic Age, kids don’t get the same outdoor activity and restful summer repose that their parents took for granted. It’s easy to spend time looking at computer and television screens instead of discovering fun summer activities for families.
Doing, Doing, Doing
Western culture depends on constant activity. Although relaxation is a big part of why we work, idle time seems somehow wrong, even when on vacation. Researchers have performed studies on why humans feel the need for constant activity. In controlled tests, people were happier when they accomplished something, even for the slightest reason.
Experts believe that the compulsion is rooted in evolution. Because survival required constant foraging, many psychologists conclude that the behavior is ingrained. “If idle people remain idle, they are miserable. If idle people become busy, they will be happier.”
However, destructive busyness can be detrimental. In fact, it can manifest itself in physical ailments. Children become anxious, depressed, have headaches, or lose sleep. So, it’s very important for parents to strike a balance between boredom and too much activity. Finding cool summer activities for families is a good start.
Establishing a Healthy Balance Between Freedom, Boredom, and Doing
Depending on your child’s level of maturity, you can help them maintain a healthy balance between activity and rest. Screen time can lead to more problems, so finding a middle ground during the summer is the key.
Age appropriate guidelines are just that, guidelines, and boredom is not necessarily a bad thing. Spending time alone and recharging is important for healthy development.
Understanding the Importance of Boredom
Overstimulation from electronic devices can have a negative influence on your child’s development. Too much time staring at digital screens leads to depression and anxiety, lower academic performance, and poor sleep.
However, boredom actually helps your brain. It lets you form new thoughts and imagine. Research has confirmed that daydreaming uses the same processes that control imagination and ingenuity. Plus, being bored helps relieve stress in children.
Make Summer Time Fun Time
Your child’s best teacher is you. But they learn better from your actions than your words. Spending time doing summer activities for families demonstrates how important your children are to you. They’ll see your ability to relax, not spend time on the computer, and communicate in the old fashioned way (face-to-face), and will learn to incorporate those healthy practices in their own lives.
Summer is the perfect time to strengthen the bonds of love that bind your family together. Make eating together a priority. One of the easiest ways to do this is scheduling evening meals without media.
Summer is the perfect time to cut back on screen time and build stronger connections with your kids. A well-balanced one filled with summer activities for families will create lasting memories and support your child’s healthy development.
The holiday season is everyone’s favorite time of year. All of the lights, food, and festivities tantalize our senses and invoke feelings of playful merriment despite the cold weather. As adults, we know that celebrations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are about appreciating and enjoying the comforts of home and family.
Young children, however, often don’t learn this lesson until much later in life. If asked, most children would say that holidays, birthdays and other special occasions are all about presents.
This obsession with stuff can negatively impact a child’s emotional development. According to child psychologists, children who grow up believing material things will make them happy are more prone to depression, social pathology, and other mood disorders.
How can parents help children develop a more balanced view of gift-giving and holidays?
Children are big business. Every year, advertisers spend between $15 and $17 billion to woo your children into wanting their products. Combat consumerism by teaching your children some basic critical thinking skills.
- Watch what your child watches. When they are exposed to ads online or during a break in their favorite TV show, talk to them about what it really means.
- Make media literacy a game. Show your child how to spot advertising methods like product placement, commercial tie-ins, and emotional manipulation.
- Use art to help your child analyze commercial messages. Have them make ads for their favorite products. Talk about why they think it would be effective.
Children who understand how advertisements influence their thinking are less likely to blindly accept the message.
Create a New Focus
Give your children something besides presents to look forward to during the holidays.
- Make a new family tradition. Every family member could select personal items to donate. Or spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter. Show your child that giving feels just as good as receiving.
- Skip the gift exchange. Take a family vacation for the holiday. Spend the day playing paintball, skiing, or engaged in activities that your whole family enjoys.
- A good gift is defined by its thoughtfulness and not its monetary value. Opt for homemade items instead of store-bought gifts.
Emphasize family and experience over presents to encourage a healthier view of holiday exchanges.
True Happiness Through Giving
Teaching your child to enjoy giving and sharing with others offers a variety of psychological benefits.
- Gift-giving releases endorphins in the brain. These chemicals are associated with feelings of joy, peace and happiness.
- Sharing with others cements bonds and helps create social networks your child can call on throughout their lives.
- Children learn empathy and compassion. These traits ensure stronger, more meaningful relationships. There is some evidence that these traits may also help protect the immune system from the negative impacts of stress.
By teaching our children to value people and experience over possessions, we can overcome the effects of uncontrolled consumerism.
– Deanna Cupo, MSW