Do children need mindfulness? Diana Skalkos and Karen Funnell discuss...
For some children, mindfulness really can help reduce stress and improve concentration, says Diana Skalkos
I BEGAN studying secular mindfulness about 25 years ago. I live with social shyness or anxiety and addressed the issue at that time by being first to the bar in social situations.
I knew I was on a slippery slope and was lucky enough to have an open minded group of friends who were willing to support me in this different approach.
I have practised with my young son for a few years now. Like every child he has faced life’s ups and downs. I see the benefits on a daily basis, in his approach to school work and his thoughtfulness and ability to respond to various circumstances.
Most especially, I saw the benefits when he was the victim of some nasty bullying in his first year in primary school. He was able to forgive and move on, limiting the long term effects.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still an old fashioned girl who has taught my child to stand up for himself and fight back. The difference is he has learned to leave the justifiable anger of a bullied child right there, at the point of defending himself, and avoid the negative self talk that can torture children into adulthood.
I’m not claiming that mindfulness is a cure-all or silver bullet. We were lucky enough to be able change schools. Our child is now attending a great school with competent, caring teachers and that has certainly also added to his personal growth, but I believe mindfulness played an important part.
If you put your hand across your forehead, beneath your fingers in your lower forehead is an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for emotional regulation, intuition and realistically discerning levels of danger. It is the area of your brain associated with the primal fight, flight or freeze mode. When the prefrontal cortex perceives danger, it prompts an area of the brain called the amygdala to release stress chemicals in the body.
This was an essential survival tool in early man but in today’s relatively predator free world, this could probably go a long way to explaining aggression, or lack of emotional regulation in children and adults.
Studies have shown that when the amygdala was activated and subjects were asked to identify the emotion they were feeling, deactivation occurred. Mindfulness caused a positive physiological shift within the body.
Connecting to present awareness is also key to building positive social awareness. Activation of the amygdala results in areas of the brain responsible for learning being less accessible.
In other words, when a child comes to school stressed or is stressed at school, the child is not in a learning state.
Mindfulness is an essential tool of the worlds leading sports psychologists. It is present in the kick of Johnny Sexton and the stride of Sonya O’Sullivan.
A short daily mindfulness practise strengthens the pathways in the prefrontal cortex and teaches our children to focus on their breath in response to stress. This slows the heart rate and overrides the alarm systems which are on alert, allowing them to regulate their emotions and respond reflectively instead.
When adults don’t have this means of regulating emotions, this can often lead to a state of stagnation or depression, or a sense that life is meaningless. Mindfulness is simply about noticing what’s happening, an awareness of the here and now, without judgement or need to modify. It is a valuable life skill and a gift to our children.
The scientifically acknowledged side effects of mindfulness in children are reduced stress, improved sleep quality and heightened focus.
Diana Skalkos divides her time between ceramics, being a mother and helping out at Yoga Republic Cork, the yoga school founded by her husband, Sackies. Diana and her husband teach mindfulness to children on a voluntary basis. She has been designing a ‘Mindfulness and Yoga for Children’ teacher training course which she hopes to launch soon
Good, honest parenting should equip children to deal with life, without the need for any formal mindfulness training, says
JUST to clarify, I’ve nothing against mindfulness. We could all do with being a little more mindful about how we act, what we say to others, how we take in the world around us, and deal with the stresses of modern-day living. Anything that helps us to be calmer, more relaxed and a little less frazzled is a good thing — I just don’t think our children need to have formal training in it.
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