Picture this. A group of three to six-year-old children are sitting with their legs crossed, hands in their lap, eyes closed and listening to the sounds they can hear around them. These children are learning that mindful listening can help them to deal with their big feelings (anger, sadness, frustration, nervousness etc.) and unhelpful thoughts of the past and the future. The director of the preschool lovingly looks over the peaceful pre-schoolers and looks at the mindfulness educator facilitating the lesson and whispers, "They all really needs this".
Now imagine that you are in a class filled with year 6 students. The entire class are lying on their backs on the floor, still and quiet. They are being led through a body scan and are being encouraged to pay attention to the sensations of each body part, to actively relax their body and to bring their attention back to their body when their mind wanders. At the end, the students are asked how they feel and what situations they could use this in. The children offer answers such as "I feel calm and relaxed", "I could use this before a big test or when I play sports because I get anxious", "I can do a body scan when I feel angry to help me calm down or to help me relax at bed time."
I teach mindfulness to children and the two above situations are a daily occurrence for myself and my fellow mindfulness educators. The preschools and primary schools in which we work and the children themselves recognise the relevance and importance of learning mindfulness to support mental health and well-being.
Let's consider the following youth mental health statistics. The Beyond Blue website states that one in seven 4-17-year-olds experience a mental health condition in a given year and half of all adult mental health cases emerge by 14 years of age. Yes half! These statistics confirm our need to act and make childhood mental health a priority.
Maybe you have come across the topic of mindfulness before as you've been listening to the news, watching your favourite morning show or reading a newspaper. Many people may even label mindfulness as a buzz word or just a popular trend but mindfulness has been helping people for centuries.
Mindfulness is a technique used for resting the mind. It can help us deal with the difficulties that we experience in our lives and to savour and enjoy the good times. In the busy world that we live in today, mindfulness can help us to slow down, switch off and create calm among the chaos.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the professor who brought mindfulness from eastern cultures to western society in the late 1970s, states that: "Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It's about knowing what is on your mind."
One of the things that I love about mindfulness is that it is backed by research. It is not just a woo, woo thing that hippies do. In the last 40 years, Kabat-Zinn's research has found that mindfulness has many benefits for adults and in the last decade, many neuroscientists have confirmed and added to these findings.
Some of the many benefits for adults include improved brain function; reduction in stress and anxiety; prevention of depression and reduction in symptoms of depression; and an increase in positive thinking, feelings and emotions.
Research from Mindful Schools, a US organisation that delivers mindfulness programs to schools, has found that the benefits for children include improved self-regulation, improved attention and concentration and an improved overall sense of wellbeing - students felt less stressed, anxious and depressed.
Mindfulness is kind of like going to the gym but instead of working out your muscles we work out the brain. By supporting the brains of children, we are setting them up for greater social and emotional success and in turn academic success too. We are developing the whole child.
I am passionate about raising awareness for mindfulness as a tool to enhance the wellbeing of children as I have personally experienced anxiety since I was a child. I was introduced to guided visualisation as a seven-year-old and I remember the sense of freedom and calm that it allowed my worry wart brain to feel. I only wish that I also had the tools of mindfulness, that I have used as an adult for the past 14 years, when I was a child. And so, my aim at this stage of my life is to help children by teaching them simple and effective mindfulness tools to allow them to navigate life with greater ease and joy from a young age. Early intervention is the best form of prevention.
If you have child in your life and you would like to help their mental health and wellbeing with mindfulness then my advice is to start small. Simple mindful practices of being aware of your senses, thoughts and feelings and focussing on what is happening right now are a great place to start.
Why not try the mindfulness exercises mentioned above or some mindful breathing? With ongoing practice, these daily mindfulness activities can be used to reduce stress and will nurture a calm mind and a happy heart. Let's reduce the shocking mental health statistics and help our children one moment at a time.