Just Breathe: The Importance of Meditation Breaks for Kids

Our kids’ brains are tired, and children of all ages really need opportunities where they can take time out each day “unplugged” to relax and focus. Meditation offers this break and helps kids function more effectively and clearly.

Children today also have reportedly high stress levels. To help them take a break, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to share meditation with their children—and teachers to incorporate mindfulness training into their lesson plans.

The simple act of teaching children how to stop, focus, and just breathe could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.

Meditation Options for Children

Meditative practices have been used since ancient times to improve health and well-being. But, just as an athlete may do different exercises, people who practice meditation often use different types.

The most common types of meditation practice are concentration, mindfulness, movement based, cultivating positive emotions, and emptying. There are specific examples and ways to practice each type.

 

Many meditation practices use breathing techniques to promote a state of calm. Mindfulness meditation on breath, perhaps the most well-known type, involves sitting quietly, resting or closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath. When your attention drifts away, which it is likely to do, simply usher your attention back to your breath without judgment.  You don’t need years of meditative practice to benefit from this technique, nor do your children.

There’s no doubt, however, that sitting still for any length of time can be difficult for some kids. For this reason, a movement-based meditation, such as yoga, may serve as a good introduction.

Research on the Benefits of Meditation in Children

Meditation is used to rest the mind, body and spirit. This, in turn, has many mental, physical, and spiritual benefits. Mindfulness meditation, specifically, is gaining a foothold in disease prevention and treatment.

A number of studies in school settings also show improved attention and behavior. Some research has shown benefits for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems, and eating disorders. For example, a trial of 300 low-income, minority urban middle-schoolers using school-based mindfulness instruction led to improved psychological functioning and lower levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

There are also physical benefits as it calms the nervous system and decreases stress hormones. Studies have shown benefits for gastrointestinal symptoms, obesity, headaches, high blood pressure, pain sensitivity, and immune function. For example, a trial looking at the effect of mindful breathing meditation at a summer camp of 166 teens at risk for cardiovascular disease found that breathing awareness produced a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate.

Meditation Tips

Meditation does not have a set of rules, but there are some tips that can help.

  • The length of time and frequency of meditating can vary for different people and different practices. But, pediatricians typically recommend the following time frames:
    • Preschool children: A few minutes per day.
    • Gradeschool children: 3-10 minutes twice a day.
    • Teens and adults: 5-45 minutes per day or more based on preference.
  • Try incorporating deep breathing into your children’s daily bedtime routine—it can help them wind down for the night and make meditation easier to do when other situations arise.
  • Remind gradeschoolers and teens to take a few deep breaths before answering a difficult question at school, taking a test, or before an athletic performance.
  • As young children learn to manage strong emotions, deep breathing can be part of the process—especially before and after time outs.
  • While meditation can be done on your own, it can also be done with the help of a trained professional. Some counselors and individuals with training in meditation can help others learn and practice meditation.
  • Meditation is not currently covered by most insurance plans unless given by a licensed counselor. It is always best to check with your individual plan. Flexible medical spending programs may count meditation training as a medical expense.
  • There are multiple ways to learn different practices of meditation. There are books, audio recordings, videos, online training, websites, and even smartphone apps to help children meditate. Choose and practice the one that works the best for you and your child, and enjoy a calmer body, mind and spirit.

Talk to Your Pediatrician

Since meditation practices are generally safe and have many possible benefits, they can be used without much risk. As with any lifestyle change, however, it is best to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician before adding meditative practices to your child’s wellness routine.


Source: Section on Integrative Medicine (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Taking a Mental Health Day Off from School

Taking a Mental Health Day Off from School: A Pediatrician-Mom’s Perspective by Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP

“I’m exhausted. Can I please have a day off from school?” My first instinct when one of my kids asks a question like this is to push them to get out of bed and get going. But when my daughter woke up last Friday and asked this question, I hesitated. My daughter has had a crazy month. Along with her usual load of 6th grade quizzes, tests, and homework, she’s had to stay at school until 7pm almost every day for rehearsals for the school play. After that, it’s a long drive home through traffic, and then dinner. She’s not able to sit down and start her load of homework until 8:30pm.

As a working mom and pediatrician, I’ve had weeks like these. The only difference is that I don’t have homework, studying, and projects to do when I get home after a very long day. And even without all of that, I will honestly admit, I have felt the need for a “mental health day.”

Kids and Stress

What I’m seeing as a pediatrician is that more and more kids are incredibly stressed. Not only have their academics been ramped up, but they are expected to do higher-level sports, high-level arts, and be on the go constantly. For many children, the lazy, after school, neighborhood playtime is long gone―as are the long summers of being bored.

What Parents Can Do

All kids are different and some can handle more than others. But as parents, we need to listen to our kids and know their limits. Studies have actually shown that boredom and long periods of unscheduled time can actually spur creativity and out of the box thinking, as well as reset the emotional needle. We ALL need this―and the kids do, too.

So, let’s all take time regularly to have that break. Reset and recharge by staying home, by being with family, or by just simply taking a walk and looking at the trees and the spring flowers. It will calm our soul and give us the “mental break” we need to recharge ourselves.

That day, I gave my daughter what she asked for. I did let her stay home and just be. And the next day, she was ready to go full force again.


Source: Copyright © 2018 Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Helping Children Handle Stress

How can we help our children handle the stresses of everyday life?

In middle childhood, pressures may come from a number of sources-from within the child herself, as well as from parents, teachers, peers and the larger society in which the child lives. Pressure can take many forms that challenge children and to which they must respond and, often, adapt. Whether these are events of lasting consequence like the divorce of their parents, or merely a minor hassle like losing their homework, these demands or stresses are a part of children’s daily existence.

Children welcome some events and are able to adapt to them with relative ease. They perceive other events as threats to their own or the family’s daily routines or general sense of well-being, and these stresses are more troublesome. Most stress faced by children is in the middle, neither welcomed nor seriously harmful, but rather a part of accomplishing the tasks of childhood and learning about themselves.

Youngsters may also worry about making friends, succeeding in school, combating peer pressure or overcoming a physical impairment. Whatever its form, if stress is too intense or long-lasting, it can sometimes take a toll on children. Clusters of stressful events seem to predispose children to illness. Major events, especially those that forever change a child’s family, like the death of a parent, can have lasting effects on children’s psychological health and well-being. Minor daily stresses can also have consequences. They can contribute to loss of sleep or appetite. Children may become angry or irritable or their school grades may suffer. Their behavior and their willingness to cooperate may change.

How different children cope with stress

Children’s temperaments vary and thus they are quite different in their ability to cope with stress and daily hassles. Some are easygoing by nature and adjust easily to events and new situations. Others are thrown off balance by changes in their lives. All children improve in their ability to handle stress if they previously have succeeded in managing challenges and if they feel they have the ability and the emotional support of family and friends. Children who have a clear sense of personal competence, and who feel loved and supported, generally do well.

Certainly, a child’s age and development will help determine how stressful a given situation may be. Changing teachers at midyear may be a major event for a child in the first grade and merely an annoyance for a sixth-grader. Being short may be a minor issue for a 5- or 6-year-old boy but a source of daily embarrassment for an adolescent. How a child perceives and responds to stress depends in part on development, in part on experience, and in part on a child’s individual temperament.

Ironically, many parents believe that their school-age children are unaware of the stresses around them and are somehow immune to them. After all, their children not only have all their basic needs met, but perhaps they also have a roomful of toys, friends to share them with, plenty of playtime, and a full schedule of extracurricular activities.

Yet children are very sensitive to the changes around them, especially to the feelings and reactions of their parents, even if those feelings are not communicated directly in words. If a parent loses a job, children will have to adjust to their family’s financial crisis; they must deal not only with the obvious family budgetary changes but also with the changes in their parents’ emotional states. Children may have to cope with a bully on the playground, a move to a new neighborhood, a parent’s serious illness or the disappointment of a poor sports performance. They might feel a constant, nagging pressure to dress the “right” way, or to achieve the high grades that can put them on the fast track toward the “right” college.

Stress and today’s middle-years child

Some psychologists believe that today’s middle-years youngsters actually are faced with more stress than the children of previous generations were and have fewer social supports available. The change in family structure from the large, supportive, extended families (including both parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents) of previous generations, to the present high incidence of divorced families, single-parent families and stepfamilies has drastically altered the experience of childhood. Millions of youngsters must adjust to such changes.

Even in intact and stable families, the growing number of households with two working parents often forces children to spend more time in after-school programs or at home alone. For some children this loss of time with their parents is quite stressful. So, too, is the responsibility for caring for themselves and the family home and sometimes for overseeing a younger sibling after school.

Many children and their families are stressed by the multiple activities that fill children’s “free time.” Overscheduled children with inadequate “down time” can become exhausted.

Today’s children are also being raised in an era in which they are exposed to violence and peer pressure about sexual activity and drug use and are warned to be cautious about kidnapping, sexual abuse and other crimes. This sense that they are living in an unsafe world is a constant source of stress for some children. In short, today’s youngsters are regularly confronted with challenges to their coping skills and often are expected to grow up too fast.

Good and bad stress

Not all stress is bad. Moderate amounts of pressure imposed by a teacher or a coach, for example, can motivate a child to keep her grades up in school or to participate more fully in athletic activities. Successfully managing stressful situations or events enhances a child’s ability to cope in the future.

When the stress is continuous or particularly intense, it takes a toll on both the psyche and the body. Sudden stressful events will accelerate your child’s breathing and heartbeat, constrict her blood vessels, increase her blood pressure and muscle tension and perhaps cause stomach upset and headaches. As stress persists, she might be more susceptible to illness and experience fatigue, nightmares, teeth-grinding, insomnia, tantrums, depression and school failure.


The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.