Contributed by Jennifer Bateman, Ph.D., National Vice President, Youth Development Programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of America
In today’s hurried, busy, high-tech world, it is easy to for young people to become overwhelmed and overstimulated. Mindfulness practices can provide the tools to help children and youth stay grounded by teaching them to stay in the present moment and find peace and balance.
Research has demonstrated a myriad of benefits for young people who learn mindfulness practices. For example, studies demonstrate a range of social and emotional gains among children including improvements in attention, calmness, impulse control, social compliance, and caring towards others.
For children diagnosed with ADHD, studies showed significant improvements in ADHD symptoms among children who were taught to meditate. The children reported improved attention spans and less hyperactivity. Other encouraging side effects listed were:
- Improved relationships with their parents
- Better sense of self-esteem
- 50 percent of the children that were on medication either reduced or stopped their medication completely, and still continued to improve their symptoms through continued meditation
What would be possible if we equipped our young people with mindfulness tools that they could employ their entire lives?
Exposing our youth to these practical techniques could help them develop focus, cope better with stress, regulate their emotions, and show greater compassion for self and others.
So how can we start introducing our young people to these beneficial practices? Here are 3 simple ideas for getting started:
- Take a mason jar and fill the bottom with glitter. Be sure to use glitter that sinks rather than floats. Adding some glycerin to the water slows down the fall of the glitter.
- Fill the jar to the top with water and seal the jar. You can also add a few drops of food coloring to the water.
- Shake the jar so that all the glitter begins swirling all around. Ask youth, “What events, thoughts, and urges make your mind swirl?”. When shaken, the glitter represents all of the thoughts buzzing around in our heads throughout the day.
- As the glitter falls to the bottom, it represents the mind settling. As the glitter “thoughts” become calmer, the water becomes clearer.
There are many variations to this practice. The jar can be used as a visual timer for breathing practices or as a “calm-down jar,” to mark and measure calm-down time.
- Invite youth to sit cross-legged on the floor and let their eyes close.
- Ring a bell or singing bowl, and ask kids to use their sense of hearing to explore the sound. Ask them to listen very carefully, and as soon as they hear it stop, raise their hand.
- They can then practice attentive listening without the bell. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds in your space. Which are closest to you? Which are far away? Which to the left, or right?
This grounding and steadying practice helps youth bring their attention to the present moment and tune into their own bodies and minds.
- Invite kids to sit cross-legged on the floor and let their eyes close.
- Sing the syllables Sa Ta Na Ma, or choose a simple affirmation to slowly chant like, “I Am Strong.” With each syllable, instruct youth to touch a different finger to his or her thumb, starting with the pointer finger and moving to the pinky.
The repetitiveness of the song is soothing, and for many youth the movement helps to quiet their minds. This practice can help teach youth how to whisper and sing quietly in their minds in order to discretely self-soothe.
A simple Internet search will reveal a whole host of mindfulness practices for youth. For the practices you choose to engage, remember to make it fun and keep it simple. Expose youth to a wide range of techniques. Some will work and some won’t. But for those that have staying power, remember that you are equipping youth with tools they can use for the rest of their lives to slow down, calm down, and feel better when they are troubled.
Jennifer Bateman is the Senior Vice President of Youth Development Programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Jennifer has 22 years of youth development experience. She earned her M.Ed. in Child Development & Psychology from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from University of Pennsylvania.