Teaching Mindfulness to Children

Teaching Mindfulness to Children

evidence

Clicca qui per Italiano

Along with a friend and colleague of ours – Professor Mark Griffiths – we recently published an article in the journal of Education and Health about the health benefits of mindfulness for children and adolescents. In our paper, we made reference to an on-going debate amongst scientists regarding the most appropriate age to teach mindfulness to children. For example, some scientists are of the view that children are developmentally suited to be taught mindfulness from around 7-8 years old. Other scientists believe that a child’s concentration span is too underdeveloped at this age and that mindfulness should not be taught to children until they are 12-14 years old.

These different scientific standpoints offer interesting perspectives on the most appropriate time to introduce children to the practice of mindfulness. However, from the Buddhist view, the best time to teach mindfulness to children is right now. In other words, the earlier a child is introduced to mindfulness the better. The idea of teaching mindfulness to very young children may sound a bit strange, but perhaps less so if one is prepared to think outside of the box (or outside of the classroom) a little.

Conducting classroom sessions or giving individual instruction is only one way of teaching mindfulness. Another way is for the teacher or parent to just simply be mindful. In our teaching and research of mindfulness and meditation (whether with children or adults), something we observe again and again is that students place a great deal of importance on the extent to which the instructor or teacher is able to impart an embodied authentic experience of mindfulness. Put differently, if the person teaching mindfulness is on some kind of spiritual trip, or their experience is limited to information they have derived from reading a few books or from attending a few meditation retreats, then children tend to notice this and become less receptive. On the other hand, a parent or teacher who is ‘well-soaked’ in meditation is teaching from an experiential standpoint. They naturally exert a reassuring presence that helps children to relax and connect with their own capacity for spiritual awareness.

An analogy sometimes used in the Buddhist teachings is that the person teaching mindfulness should be like a graceful swan. The swan is confident and elegant in the way it moves. It glides effortlessly through the water without disturbing it too much. When a parent is mindful of their being, when they walk around the home fully conscious of each and every breath and each and every step, then they assume a calming presence that naturally pervades the entire household. When a child observes their mother or father living gently, having time for life and for one another, and not rushing their lives away, then happiness grows in the child’s heart and they feel secure and cradled by their parents’ spiritual presence.

Rather than lots of individuals living separate and fragmented lives within the same household, the family becomes a real home once again. Family members are happy to sit and truly enjoy each other’s company without needing to be constantly plugged into computer games or television shows. The children naturally begin to think, speak, and act with clarity and awareness. They shine with joy and happiness which is the greatest gift a parent can bestow upon them.

When this wholesome living environment has been cultivated effectively, the home becomes a place of spiritual refuge and nourishment.  In these circumstances there’s no real need to sit down and instruct the child in how to practice mindfulness because mindfulness has become a part of their being. Giving instructions in this manner would be like teaching a child how to walk after they have already learned to do so. The child understands intuitively what it means to be awake to the present moment and doing so becomes as natural as riding a bicycle.

Please don’t misunderstand what is being said here. We are not saying that children should not be instructed in how to practice mindfulness. Unfortunately, the family environment that we outlined above is not realistic for many children and therefore other methods of teaching mindfulness are required. However, what we would like to emphasise is that without authenticity in the transmission of mindfulness teachings, then any beneficial effects are likely to be short-lived. Moreover, a person who teaches mindfulness without an experiential grounding can actually cause harm for all concerned.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 133-144.

Duncan, L. G., & Bardacke, N. (2010). Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: Promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 190-202.

Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, et al. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M.T., Dariotis, J.K., Feagans Gould, L., Rhoades, B.L., & Leaf, P.J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 985-994.

Schonert-Reichl, K.A. & Lawlor, M.S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre- and early adolescents’ well-being and social emotional competance. Mindfulness, 1, 137-151.

Singh, N., Lancioni, G., Winton, A., Karazsia, B., & Singh, J. (2013). Mindfulness training for teachers changes the behavior of their preschool  students. Research in Human Development, 10, 211-233.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents. Education and Health, 30, 94-97.

Thompson, M. & Gauntlett-Gilber, J. (2008). Mindfulness with children and adolescents: Effective clinical application. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 395-407.

 

Insegnare mindfulness ai bambini

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Insieme a una amica e collega nostra – Dr Giulia Cavalli – abbiamo recentemente pubblicato un articolo sulla rivista Educare03 sui benefici per la salute di mindfulness per bambini e adolescenti Nel nostro articolo, abbiamo fatto riferimento a un dibattito in corso tra gli scienziati per quanto riguarda l’età più appropriata per insegnare mindfulness ai bambini. Ad esempio, alcuni scienziati sono del parere che i bambini sono evolutivamente adatti per essere insegnato la mindfulness da circa 7-8 anni. Altri scienziati ritengono che la concentrazione di un bambino è troppo poco sviluppato a questa età e che la mindfulness non dovrebbe essere insegnata ai bambini fino a 12-14 anni.

Questi diversi punti di vista scientifici offrono interessanti prospettive sul momento più appropriato per introdurre i bambini alla pratica della mindfulness. Tuttavia, dal punto di vista buddista, il momento migliore per insegnare ai bambini la mindfulness è adesso – proprio in questo momento. In altre parole, prima un bambino viene introdotto alla mindfulness meglio é. L’idea di insegnare la mindfulness ai bambini molto piccoli può sembrare un po’ strano, ma forse meno se uno è disposto a pensare fuori della scatola (o fuori dell’aula) un po ‘. Lo svolgimento di sessioni in aula o dando istruzione individuale è solo un modo di insegnare la mindfulness. Un altro modo è per l’insegnante o il genitore di semplicemente essere mindful. Nel nostro insegnamento e ricerca di mindfulness e meditazione (sia con i bambini che con gli adulti), qualcosa che osserviamo di ripetutamente è che gli studenti pongono molto importanza alla misura in cui l’istruttore o insegnante è in grado di impartire un’autentica esperienza incarnata della mindfulness. In altre parole, se la persona che insegna la mindfulness è in una sorta di fantasia spirituale, o la loro esperienza è limitata alle informazioni che essi hanno tratto dalla lettura di qualche libro o di frequentare un paio di ritiri di meditazione, i bambini tendono a notare questo e diventano meno ricettivo D’altra parte, un genitore o un insegnante che è ‘ben saturato’ nella meditazione inmsegna dal punto di vista esperienziale. Essi naturalmente esercitano una presenza rassicurante che aiuta i bambini a rilassarsi e connettersi con la propria capacità di consapevolezza spiritual

Un’analogia a volte utilizzata negli insegnamenti buddisti è che la persona insegnamento consapevolezza dovrebbe essere come un cigno grazioso. Il cigno è fiducioso ed elegante nel modo in cui si muove. Si scivola senza sforzo attraverso l’acqua senza disturbarla troppo. Quando un genitore è consapevole del loro essere, quando camminano intorno alla casa completamente cosciente di ogni respiro e ogni passo, allora assumono una presenza calmante che naturalmente pervade l’intera famiglia. Quando un bambino osserva la madre o il padre che vive con delicatezza, che hanno tempo per la vita e per l’un l’atro, che non permettano la loro vita a scorrere via, allora la felicità cresce nel cuore del bambino e si sentono sicuri e cullati dalla presenza spirituale dei genitori.

Piuttosto che un sacco di individui che vivono una vita separata e frammentata all’interno della stessa famiglia, la famiglia diventa ancora una volta una vera casa. Membri della famiglia sono felici di sedersi e veramente godere della reciproca compagnia senza la necessità di essere costantemente collegato a giochi per computer o programmi televisivi. I bambini naturalmente iniziano a pensare, a parlare e agire con chiarezza e consapevolezza. Essi brillano con gioia e felicità che è il dono più grande che un genitore può dare loro.

Quando questo ambiente di vita sano è stato coltivato in modo efficace, la casa diventa un luogo di rifugio spirituale e di nutrimento. In queste circostanze non c’è alcuna necessità reale di sedersi e istruire il bambino a come mettere in pratica la mindfulness perché la mindfulness è diventata una parte del loro essere. Dare istruzioni in questo modo sarebbe come insegnare a un bambino come camminare dopo che il bambino ha già imparato a farlo. Il bambino capisce intuitivamente che cosa significhi essere sveglio al momento presente e facendo così diventa naturale come andare in bicicletta.

Si prega di non fraintendere ciò che viene detto qui. Non stiamo dicendo che i bambini non devono essere istruiti a come mettere in pratica mindfulness. Purtroppo, l’ambiente familiare che abbiamo descritto sopra non è realistico per molti bambini e pertanto sono necessari altri metodi di insegnamento della mindfulness. Tuttavia, ciò che vorremmo sottolineare è che senza autenticità nella trasmissione degli insegnamenti di mindfulness, eventuali effetti benefici rischiano di essere di breve durata. Inoltre, una persona che insegna consapevolezza senza un’adeguata esperienza in realtà può causare danno per tutti gli interessati.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Ulteriori letture

Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 133-144.

Duncan, L. G., & Bardacke, N. (2010). Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: Promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 190-202.

Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, et al. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M.T., Dariotis, J.K., Feagans Gould, L., Rhoades, B.L., & Leaf, P.J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 985-994.

Schonert-Reichl, K.A. & Lawlor, M.S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre- and early adolescents’ well-being and social emotional competance. Mindfulness, 1, 137-151.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents. Education and Health, 30, 94-97.

Thompson, M. & Gauntlett-Gilber, J. (2008). Mindfulness with children and adolescents: Effective clinical application. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 395-407.

Author: Dr Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Dr Edo Shonin Dr Edo Shonin is research director of the Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation and Mindfulness Research, and a chartered psychologist at the Nottingham Trent University (UK). He sits on the editorial board for the academic journal Mindfulness and the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Edo is internationally recognised as a leading authority in mindfulness practice and research and has over 100 academic publications relating to the scientific study of meditation and Buddhist practice. He is the author of ‘The Mindful Warrior: The Path to Wellbeing, Wisdom and Awareness’ and primary editor of academic volumes on ‘The Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness’ and ‘Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction’. He has been a Buddhist monk for thirty years and is spiritual director of the international Mahayana Bodhayati School of Buddhism. He has also received the higher ordination in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Edo regularly receives invitations to give keynote speeches, lectures, retreats and workshops at a range of academic and non-academic venues all over the world. Ven William Van Gordon Ven William Van Gordon has been a Buddhist monk for almost ten years. He is co-founder of the Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness, and Psychological Wellbeing and the Mahayana Bodhayati School of Buddhism. He has been ordained within Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions and has extensive training in all aspects of Buddhist practice, psychology, and philosophy. Prior to becoming a Buddhist monk, Ven William Van Gordon worked for various blue chip companies including Marconi Plc, PepsiCo International, and Aldi Stores Limited where he worked as an Area Manager responsible for a multi-site £28 million portfolio of supermarkets with over 50 employees. Ven William Van Gordon is also a research psychologist and forms part of the Psychological Wellbeing and Mental Health Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University. His area of research expertise is the study of ‘authentic spiritual transmission’ – within mainstream Buddhism itself as well as within contemporary Buddhist-derived clinical interventions. His current research projects are concerned with evaluating the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness for the treatment of various health conditions. Ven William Van Gordon has numerous publications relating to the clinical utility of meditative interventions including in leading peer-reviewed psychology journals. As a separate undertaking, William is currently writing-up his doctoral thesis which relates to the effects of meditation on work-related wellbeing and performance. Ven William Van Gordon enjoys fell running, martial arts, DIY, reading and writing poetry, caring for cancer patients, and studying civil litigation. He is a keen mountaineer with some arctic expedition experience.

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