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Go Ask Mom

Duke Medicine: Mindfulness and health in children

Posted June 14, 2010

Mindfulness is the art of paying attention to your life on purpose, without judging what you notice, says Dr. Michelle Bailey, director of education at Duke Integrative Medicine.

While this sounds simple, it is not always easy. The uncertainty of life can produce worries about events that have happened in the past or what may come in the future. This is true for kids as well.

The use of meditation practices, including mindfulness, is relatively new in the Western world. Used to promote health and well-being, the majority of this work has been done with adults, but more recently mindfulness practices have been introduced to children.

Mindfulness has been incorporated into the educational setting to address the increasing stress that children are facing. Multiple sources of childhood stress have been identified, from academic pressures and peer influences to family issues such as financial struggles and marital or sibling conflict.

Stress often leads to feelings of resistance, fear and anxiety. Mindfulness practice is one way to assist children in building healthy stress management skills.

Mindfulness practices have been integrated for children from pre-school age up to K-12 students. An increasing number of school- and community-based programs are now teaching children and teens how to use mindfulness in real life situations. Ringing a bell and asking children to focus on their breathing allows them to redirect their attention to what is happening in their life in this moment.

This ability to “re-center” your attention has been used to help children avoid fights on the playground and to think before they impulsively react to a challenging situation.

The good news is that mindfulness practice can also have a positive impact on the health of children.Kids who were exposed to mindfulness demonstrated an increased ability to focus and maintain concentration, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve sleep quality and reduce aggression.

How can you help your kids become more mindful? Read Dr. Bailey's full article in dukehealth.org's Your Child's Health section for more information on mindfulness and kids, including a few exercises on mindful walking, mindful breathing and mindful eating.

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