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Mindfulness Programs Boost Children’s Mental Health, Study Finds

Multi-ethnic group of kids in mindfulness class together.

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Key Takeaways

  • Children benefited in well-being and resilience from a mindfulness-based intervention taught by primary-school teachers in the U.K.
  • There were significant improvements in terms of positive emotional state, positive outlook, and resiliency following the delivery of a school-based mindfulness intervention. 

Adults have long appreciated the mental health benefits of mindfulness. A recently published study in the International Journal of Spa and Wellness has demonstrated that there are positive impacts for children aged 9-12 too when teachers deliver school-based mindfulness interventions.

As the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the health of children continue to be navigated, this research shows promise for a preventative program that may assist to manage stress and increase resiliency for young children.

While mindfulness research has demonstrated benefits for young ages before, this study adds to the limited research on school-based mindfulness intervention programs. These results bode well for how teachers can incorporate mindfulness into their daily practice with young students, which can help them manage mental health throughout their life.

How This Pilot Study Worked

For this research study, teachers delivered the Mindfulness Attention Programme (MAP) to a total of 1,138 children in the U.K. over a period of 9 weeks, where each session lasted for 45 minutes and attempted to develop coping skills to support children’s mental health, alongside daily mindful practice for two minutes after playtime and lunchtime.

Researchers found significant improvements in the levels of well-being and resilience, with benefits in terms of positive emotional state and positive outlook, and the vulnerability and resource aspects of resiliency. In this way, these results add to growing research on the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) to promote mental health benefits for children.

In terms of research limitations, it's worth noting the absence of a control group, the use of psychometric tests, the lack of mindfulness training requirement for teachers prior to their involvement in this study, and the limited diversity within the Derbyshire region of the U.K. Nonetheless, such a pilot study may provide insights for future programming for school-based mindfulness interventions.

The Benefits of MBIs

Maggie Yuan, EdD, LMHC, says, "Evidence continues to mount in favor of investing in mindfulness programs in schools to teach students effective self-regulation skills. Past and present research indicates that learning and applying these skills can lead to better social-emotional learning."

While this pilot study did not explore MBIs for improving academic outcomes or benefiting parents and teachers of these children, this may be fertile ground for future research to determine whether or not MBIs are a worthwhile investment for the mental health of children.

This promise is why Yuan describes how mindfulness skills can teach kids that the mind is like a muscle, over which they can gain more control with practice. Given how learning regularly occurs in schools, mindful approaches can be easily incorporated.

Maggie Yuan, Ed.D., LMHC

The more children and youth practice noticing their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment (and to have this process scaffolded by adults), the more we build their capacity to manage stressful situations and express their feelings effectively.

— Maggie Yuan, Ed.D., LMHC

Using Mindfulness to Develop Connections

Leela R. Magavi, MD, says, "Many of the children I evaluate in clinic enjoy partaking in mindfulness activities with their parents. Regardless of whether the technique is correct, this time spent with family is invaluable and helps release stress and anger related to the uncertainty of this year."

In this way, mindfulness may offer opportunities to grow closer to others through engaging in the practice together. "Some children excitedly share mindfulness techniques they have constructed on their own; I encourage them to teach me, and we practice together in session," says Magavi.

Dr. Leela R. Magavi, M.D.

As physicians, we can make mindfulness fun for children and encourage them to employ meditation when they miss their grandparents or friends or are simply frustrated with everything that has happened over this year. One of the kids I have evaluated for years dedicates his mindfulness time to Kobe Bryant; he finds this very therapeutic.

— Dr. Leela R. Magavi, M.D.

Especially given how much children have faced during the pandemic, Magavi expressed pride in their resilience throughout this lamentable year. "When I teach children how to meditate, I keep things very simple. I request them to close their eyes and just focus on breathing. Some kids laugh and giggle at first, but they begin to love it with practice," says Magavi.

What This Means For You

As this study has indicated, MBIs hold a great deal of promise within school settings to improve the mental health of children. Especially given the financial barriers to access for psychotherapy treatment, such MBIs delivered by teachers may offer a rare free opportunity for children to develop coping skills for mental health.

In this way, the benefits of MBIs in schools may extend through their lifetime.

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  1. Nelson L, Roots K, Dunn T, Rees A, Hull D, Van Gordon W. Effects of a regional school-based mindfulness programme on students’ levels of wellbeing and resiliencyInt J Spa Wellness. Published online April 12, 2021. doi:10.1080/24721735.2021.1909865