The benefits of mindfulness
Mental health statistics for children are grim.
Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 141.
One in seven primary school aged children experience mental illness2.
“While the research on the benefits of practicing mindfulness in preschoolers is still in the early stages, if we look at the data from research with older children and adults, it has a range of benefits,” says Dr Wootten.
“We are able to track the changes in the functions of the brain and see how the neural pathways are strengthened in different areas.”
One of those benefits is our response to stressful situations.
Through the regular practice of mindfulness, our stress response becomes less reactive, so we are better equipped to tolerate different levels of stress without having a huge influx of stress hormones like, adrenaline and cortisol.
“For young children, they are better able to manage change and complexity in a more regulated way, rather than getting emotionally overwhelmed,” adds Dr Wootten.
Another key benefit is the change in a child’s executive function – where we process complex emotions and build emotional intelligence – which helps us to read other people’s emotions and understand their behaviour.
“While young children aren’t always going to be able to tune into other’s feelings and read their emotions, giving them the opportunity to learn about emotions and feel those emotions is the first step in building emotional intelligence,” says Dr Wootten.
In the long term, building mindfulness practice into regular routines from an early age, will promote mental health and may help to prevent some mental illnesses.
“There are a lot of mental health challenges that involve ruminating, so being continuously anxious, repeatedly thinking and worrying about a specific thing,” explains Dr Wootten.
“Teaching children from a young age to observe and acknowledge their feelings, rather than get stuck in a cycle of worrying, is a critical skill that can prevent the onset of those specific mental health challenges.”
The practice of mindfulness also helps to build resilience in young children.
“It can provide them with the capabilities and resources to navigate challenges and the self-confidence to overcome those challenges,” adds Dr Wootten.
Mindfulness exercises for preschoolers
Smiling Mind has developed a free app which provides mindful exercises for various age groups – including young children aged three to five years old.
It also has a family section, where parents can access resources and activities to practice mindfulness together as a family.