Mindfulness Practice helps children

Mindfulness meditation, inspired by Buddhist traditions, really took root in the United States after 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts.
The practices, which emphasize attention to breathing and focusing on the present moment, offer many benefits, according to the American Psychological Association. Those include stress and rumination reduction, increased focus and less emotional reactivity.
While it's easy to understand how that would benefit the typically harried adult in this country, it's a little more difficult to picture a child sitting quietly meditating.

Yet mindfulness practices are being introduced to children in school settings, and with good reason.
"I think schools are really stressful for kids," said Tracey Sparrow, Ed.D., vice president of Children's Programs at the Milwaukee Center for Independence. "So are social situations and home situations."
Mindfulness practice, she said, "gives them a tool to deal with that stress."
At MCFI's School for Early Development and Achievement, Sparrow said mindfulness practices are taught using the MindUp™ Curriculum, 15 lessons with activities designed to help children concentrate, manage their emotions, better handle conflicts and have less stress.

MindUp™ is an evidenced-based, CASEL-accredited social and emotional literacy program of The Hawn Foundation, founded by Goldie Hawn. "They go through structured lessons," Sparrow said. "They do a lot of breathing exercises."
But if you're imagining a room filled with children sitting cross-legged with eyes closed mouthing "Om" in unison, you're picturing it wrong. Sparrow said students will place a teddy bear on their stomach and watch as it goes up and down with each breath. "It's a good way for them to get focused."
She said mindfulness practices have even greater implications for children with special needs, who can learn to self-regulate t heir behaviors.
For instance, she said an active child with a sensory disorder can be taught to use breathing techniques to calm down. And once the practice is learned, that child can, on his or her own, practice it anytime, anywhere.
"Our kids have started, when something upsets them, to step back and take a breath," said Sparrow.
Research indicates mindfulness practice also enhances executive function – the ability to plan, organize and manage time. Academically, that will benefit all children, said Sparrow.

(For more information on mindfulness applications for children, contact Tracey Sparrow at MCFI Children's Programs at 414.937.3990.)

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