Russell Simmons

When Children Meditate

The benefits of meditation in general have become more widely recognized in recent years.  People who meditate experience reduced stress and anxiety, improved attention and concentration, a decrease in worried thinking, and slower aging of the brain.  In fact, researchers have discovered that people who have been meditating for about 20 years had more gray matter in their brains than non-meditating peers. One effect of aging is a gradual decrease in gray matter, something regular and long term meditation appears to counteract.  If adults, whose brains have stopped developing, can experience these benefits from meditation, how can the practice benefit the rapidly changing neural connections in children?

The good news is, teaching children to meditate provides them with all the benefits seen in adults.  When you consider how these benefits can be applied to the busy lives of children, it’s easy to see why schools are beginning to add meditation to the curriculum.  When young children meditate, the results can be astounding.

Some schools have replaced detention with meditation.  Instead of sitting at a desk, bored, as form a punishment, the children participate in mindfulness meditation.  It teaches them to slow down, breathe, and relax. They feel less stressed and anxious and leave detention with something valuable and useful in the long term.  The results led other schools to ask what might happen if meditation were used to help prevent children from acting out and being sent to detention in the first place.  In schools where the children regularly meditate, the benefits can be seen throughout the day.

Children who meditate experience improved grades and attendance due to boosted memory and relaxation during test taking.  Meditation helps children better manage their own behavior, reduces the symptoms of ADHD, and gives students a better sense of self.  It’s no surprise that children who meditate demonstrate improved mental health. Wouldn’t we all be in better mental health if we learned how to be more relaxed, attentive, and self-aware?  

Sadly, many children live with less than ideal situations at home or have gone through some kind of trauma.  At-risk students seem to benefit the most from meditation at school. Meditating gives them time to take a mental break from worrying about events at home or a trauma they may have suffered.  Research also shows meditating can break the cycle of replaying negative thoughts. Children who meditate become more resilient and better able to deal with difficult emotions. They are less likely to experience depression and substance abuse and more likely to make positive life choice.

With everything we now know about the benefits of meditation for children, shouldn’t more schools begin to include regular meditation during the school day?  Half an hour a day seems like a small investment for a lifetime of rewards. Teachers who spend a good part of their day trying to keep children focused, resolving disputes, or managing behavioral issues may consider half an hour a small price to pay in order to improve grades, peer relationships, stress and anxiety, and overall mental health in their students.