I’m a science geek, I’ve always been.

I think it’s because my dad was a brain scientist.

Even as a kid I was fascinated by science and we used to talk science at the dinner table.

And now, being a dad and a mindfulness teacher, I’ve found out that kids respond really well to science.

My son, Anton, learned about the major parts of the brain when he was two …

and it was FUN for him :-)

Just yesterday, in the park, he explained how hippocampus and the amygadala work …

I had to laugh because it was so out of place with all the kids running around making silly noises.

I was super proud too … and happy that he could understand and explain why he got angry …

and how he could cool down with the help of a simple mindfulness activity.

( Here’s a fun explanation of the brain & mindfulness I made, by the way )

Anyway … if you’re a science fan then you’re in luck!

There are literally hundreds of studies related to mindfulness.

What Science Says About Mindfulness Practice with Kids Teens and Grown-Ups

Hundreds of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness.

Benefits such as;

reduced stress and anxiety,
improved health,
better sleep,
improved focus and awareness,
better problem solving,
improved impulse control,
more compassion and kindness,
stronger relationships,
altruism,
and even higher life satisfaction.

Now that’s impressive!

The benefits for adults have been studied for decades, but research on mindfulness and children is not as common.

The number of studies of using mindfulness with children is growing rapidly and the results are promising.

Studies suggest that mindfulness shows promise as a tool to support mental health, social-emotional skills, well-being and academic achievement.

If you’re interested in studies conducted with kids and youth you will find many below.

Here’s a short summary for you.

In children and youth specifically, mindfulness has been found to:

Improve attention and focus (1)
enhance focus in children with ADHD (2)
reduce attention problems (3)
improve grades (4)
improve emotion regulation (5)
mitigate the effects of bullying (6)
improve social skills (7)
improve test anxiety (8)
decrease stress (9)
decrease depression (10)
and improve wellbeing. (11)

This is super exciting if you want to help your kids, but there’s more … a lot more …

Mindfulness in the classroom

Teaching mindfulness to students can result in increased concentration and self-regulation, but also in empathy, kindness, well-being, generosity, and compassion.

Mindfulness is also taught to teachers and administrators both for purposes of personal self-care and to share the skills that their students are learning.

According to research conducted by the University of California in conjunction with Mindful Schools, a program that aims to integrate mindfulness into classrooms, benefits of mindfulness practice for young children include:

  • Improved focus
  • Improved grades
  • Decreased stress
  • Emotional regulation
  • Increased compassion
  • Increased conflict-resolution skills

Some areas that students can improve by practicing mindfulness include:

  • Test taking
  • Public speaking
  • Sports
  • Music
  • Peer interactions
  • Family life

Mindful Schools further reports that research has found improvements in anxiety, cognitive functioning and self regulation among children trained in mindfulness, suggesting that the corresponding parts of the brain may be changing as well.

A study with 400 students

In 2013 scientists followed more than 400 students during five weeks of mindfulness training (Black, D. S. & Fernando, R. 2013). They found out that student behavior improved significantly in four areas measured: paying attention, self-control, classroom participation, and respect for others. The gains were maintained seven weeks after the training ended.

3rd graders do mindfulness

A study, conducted by Lisa Flook with 3rd graders, found that students who did an 8-week mindfulness program showed significant improvements in behavioral regulation, metacongnition and focus. Flook et al., (2010)

Mindful kindergarteners

Mindfulness is even taught to kindergarteners these days; it’s not a big deal. Even pre-schoolers learn mindfulness skills and it’s proven to be beneficial.

Another study by Lisa Flook and her colleagues showed that a twelve week mindfulness training (twice a week) aided preschoolers boost mental flexibility, empathy, and academic success earning higher marks on their end-of-year assessments. Flook et al., (2015)

“Breathing Buddies”, a form of mindful breathing, was a favorite among the kids, according to teachers. In this activity, kids listened to music while lying on their backs with a small stone on their bellies.

Their only instruction:

Pay attention to the sensation of the stone. Feel it rising and falling as you breathe in and out.

Breathing Buddy is my absolute favorite mindful breathing and deep belly breathing exercise for kids. I teach it in all my mindfulness courses.

When I first introduced it to my son Anton he got so excited that he did the exercise every day for a full week.

We had a lot of fun and I had the chance to introduce both mindful breathing and deep relaxing belly breathing to my son.

Win win!

Studies per technique

You probably already know that different mindfulness techniques can give you different results.

People tend to talk about mindfulness practice like it’s one thing.

But in reality there are many different techniques.

In my book “Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book” I made an effort to divide mindfulness activities in three different groups.

1. Activities for sensory awareness, focus, and calm

2. Activities for joy, gratitude, and kindness

3. Activities for emotional intelligence and regulation

Most mindfulness exercises help to improve focus, reduce stress and bring about more calm,

but some techniques are designed specifically to nurture particular emotions and states of mind.

I like to think of mindfulness practice as a set of tools …

tools that give you different results.

Like a Swiss army knife …

with different tools for different tasks and results.

You have a mini saw … a bottle opener …

a knife … a can opener … maybe even scissors and so on :)

Different tools for different jobs!

Each tools gives you something slightly different.

It’s the same with mindfulness techniques.

So, for example …

sensory awareness techniques like mindful breathing can give you focus, clarity and calm.

Kindness practice can give you warm fuzzy loving kind feelings.

Gratitude practice can make you feel joy and increase happiness …

and so on …

So, different mindfulness techniques can give you different results.

And that’s why I grouped a few more awesome studies based on the type of exercise.

Loving Kindness Practice

Loving kindness practice helps you and your kids nurture …

kindness,

self-kindness,

emotional intelligence,

and empathy.

Think about it for a moment … kindness is a skill.

You can learn to be kinder with the help of kindness practice!

It’s easy to think that empathy somehow magically rubs off on our kids.

I do believe empathy is inherent and it might rub off, too …

but, simply telling our kids to be kind will not necessarily make them caring and compassionate.

Patty O’Grady, PhD, an expert in neuroscience, education and emotional learning, says:

“Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it.”

And that’s the idea of loving kindness practice!

It helps you get in touch with the feeling of kindness over and over again.

Studies have shown that teaching empathy can make children more emotionally and socially competent.

And it can also help them be more successful and high-functioning adults in the future.

study that tracked kindergarteners until they turned 25 found that kind behavior in kindergarten is a predictor for:

improved education,

job prospects,

criminal activity,

likelihood of substance abuse,

and mental health in adulthood.

Students who were kinder and more co-operative with their peers did better as adults!

Here’s one more awesome study.

Being well liked is important for kids and teens …

and you can achieve it by …

being kind!

This is pretty obvious, but there’s now a study pointing it out.

The study said, in essence, that:

To be happy, to be good, and to be well liked are linked together.

And that kindness boosts peer acceptance and well-being.

The 9- to 11-year-olds in Vancouver who performed three acts of kindness each week during the 4-week study improved their well-being and increased their popularity.

The researchers concluded that peer acceptance is important as it’s related to important academic and social outcomes, including being helpful, cooperative, and emotionally well-adjusted. (12)

How about that!

Experts also think kindness training is the way to reduce bullying.

Gratitude Practice

I love gratitude practice! Gratitude practice is linked to

enhanced happiness,

optimism,

improved social support,

and overall satisfaction with school, family, community, friends and self.

And guess what …

gratitude practice is both fun and easy to do!

In one study psychologists Jeffrey Froh, William Sefick and Robert Emmons followed middle school students (ages 11-13) practicing gratitude for a five week period. The results were positive: counting blessings was associated with higher levels of optimism, increased life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings. (13)

Another study conducted with teens ages 14-19 found out that grateful teens are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their school work and hobbies, have higher grades, are less envious, depressed and materialistic (Froh et al. 2010) .

Gratitude practice comes with many science-backed benefits.

Emma Seppala, Associate Director at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, lists many benefits to gratitude practice.

Benefits such as:

  • increased happiness
  • protection from stress and negativity
  • improved social intelligence
  • improved relationships
  • and even improved health

So many benefits!!

To sum it up …

Mindfulness is pretty amazing. That’s why I practice on my own and with my son.

I’m a calmer, kinder and more joyful dad when I practice.

I like to say that …

with mindfulness practice, you learn about yourself and plant seeds of change.

And the coolest thing for me is that …

Your brain and mind can change with practice.

There’s this cool thing in the field of neuroscience called neuroplasticity.

What it means is:

an old brain can learn new tricks!

Scientists say that we can shape our brains by what we do and experience.

That means that with regular practice you can become …

more kind and generous,

more focused and joyful,

more aware,

and less controlled by your mental chatter and emotions.

And to me that is a path to contentment!

So … finally …

I recommend that you try different mindfulness techniques to find out what works for you and to see what kind of benefits you get.

Trust your own experiences and continue with the activities that feel good and produce results for you.

If you feel like you’d like me to show you step-by-step how to integrate mindfulness into your routines at home (or at school) in a sustainable way, I recommend you join one of our online courses. I recommend Positive Mindfulness for Kids and Teens if you’d like to cultivate more Joy, Focus, Kindness and Calm at home or at school. I’d be happy to have you onboard!

You can also check out my book:

Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book

– 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens (And Grown-Ups Too!)

I hope this article inspires you to practice more mindfulness :-)

May you be happy and healthy!

Chris

See also:

Mindfulness And The Brain Made Easy

Mindfulness and the Brain—How to Explain It to Children

If you are new to mindfulness with children, OR you want to boost your practice, we recommend our online courses: Get notified here!


Chris Bergstrom is the co-founder of BlissfulKids.com and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator, and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.


 

Resources

More about loving kindness practice:

Studies on self-compassion have linked it to greater emotional resilience, more caring relationships and less reactive anger.

Empathy is a skill that can be practiced, strengthened and expanded.

Check out this article with 18 science-based reasons to practice loving kindness.

Researchers have found out that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.

Not surprisingly, studies say that if we can be kind to ourselves instead, we can feel better and even perform better.

Kindness practice helps us to be less judgmental, reduce negative self-talk and feel better about ourselves.

We can train our brains to be kinder to ourselves and others.

What if schools taught kindness?

More about gratitude practice:

Gratitude increases happiness. Thankfulness leads to heightened well-being, and especially positive moods. (ref1. refref3).

Gratitude creates lasting happiness. An attitude of gratitude helps you not only increase positive emotion, but can also sustain it. (ref).

Gratitude protects you from both stress and negativity. Gratitude is associated with decreased anxiety and depression and increased social support (ref).

Gratitude leads to stronger relationships. Gratitude strengthens your relationships and helps you create and maintain good relationships and feel more connected. (ref1 and ref2 and ref3).

Gratitude benefits people of all ages – from adolescence to adulthood (ref)

Sources:

1 Baijal, S., Jha, A. P., Kiyonaga, A., Singh, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2011). The influence of concentrative meditation training on the development of attention networks during early adolescence. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-9.
Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.
Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218–229.
2 Zhang et al., 2016
3 Crescentini, Capurso, Furlan, & Fabbro, 2016
4 Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.
5 Metz, S. M., Frank, J. L., Reibel, D., Cantrell, T., Sanders, R., & Broderick, P. C. (2013). The effectiveness of the learning to BREATHE program on adolescent emotion regulation. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 252–272.
6 Zhou, Liu, Niu, Sun, & Fan, 2016
7 Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.
8 Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.
9 Barnes, V. A., Davis, H. C., Murzynowski, J. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2004). Impact of meditation on resting and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate in youth. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(6), 909-914.
Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(7), 985–994.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.
Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-8.
Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.
10 Raes, F., Griffith, J. W., Van der Gucht, K., & Williams, J. M. G. (2014). School-­based prevention and reduction of depression in adolescents: A cluster-­randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness group program. Mindfulness, 5(5), 477–486.
11 Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.
Barnes, V. A., Davis, H. C., Murzynowski, J. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2004). Impact of meditation on resting and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate in youth. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(6), 909-914.

12 Layous et al. Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being. Published: December 26, 2012

13 Froh, Sefick, Emmons 2007

More Science Resources

Attention

Baijal, S., Jha, A. P., Kiyonaga, A., Singh, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2011). The influence of concentrative meditation training on the development of attention networks during early adolescence. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-9./span>

Baijal, S., Jha, A. P., Kiyonaga, A., Singh, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2011). The influence of concentrative meditation training on the development of attention networks during early adolescence. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-9./span>

Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125./span>

Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218–229./span>

Emotion regulation

Metz, S. M., Frank, J. L., Reibel, D., Cantrell, T., Sanders, R., & Broderick, P. C. (2013). The effectiveness of the learning to BREATHE program on adolescent emotion regulation. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 252–272.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

Stress

Barnes, V. A., Davis, H. C., Murzynowski, J. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2004). Impact of meditation on resting and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate in youth. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(6), 909-914.

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(7), 985–994.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-8.

Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

Amygdala

Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169.

Desbordes, G., Negi, L. T., Pace, T. W., Wallace, B. A., Raison, C. L., & Schwartz, E. L. (2012). Effects of mindful-­attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-­meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6.

Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Evans, K. C., Hoge, E. A., Dusek, J. A., Morgan, L., … Lazar, S. W. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(1), 11–17.

Hippocampus

Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-­based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83.

Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36–43.

Prefrontal Cortex

Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40(08), 1239–1252./span>

Even More Resources:

Mindful Schools – http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/research/
Mindup Curriculum – https://mindup.org/
https://goamra.org/tag/executive-function/
http://www.calstat.org/publications/article_detail.php?a_id=146&nl_id=25
Healing the Angry Brain – http://www.academia.edu/5660269/Healing_the_Angry_Brain
Neurobiology Essentials for Clinicians: What Every Therapist Needs to Know – Montgomery, A. (2013).
The Whole Brain Child, Dan Siegel – http://www.amazon.com/Whole-Brain-Child-Revolutionary-Strategies-Developing/dp/0553386697/