Amongst adults there is reasonably strong evidence for the positive impact of mindfulness on a wide range of mental and physical health conditions, on social and emotional skills and wellbeing, and on learning and cognition. There is also good evidence from neuroscience and brain imaging that mindfulness meditation reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling.
Research with children and young people is not yet as extensive as with adults, and the studies carried out so far have some methodological limitations, most notably small numbers, and limited use of control groups or randomization. Conclusions must therefore be tentative. Nevertheless, work is growing rapidly and the results are promising which suggests that mindfulness in schools is well worth doing.
Two recent systematic reviews and twenty individual studies of mindfulness interventions with school aged children, all with reasonable numbers of participants, have been published in reputable peer reviewed scientific journals. The interventions involved all age ranges, both volunteers and ‘conscripts’, children without problems and children with a range of mental and physical health problems, and took place in school, clinical and community contexts. The weight of evidence from these studies concludes that:
· Mindfulness for young people is easy to carry out, fits into a wide range of contexts, is enjoyed by both students and teachers, and does no harm.
· Well conducted mindfulness interventions can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people who take part. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behavior, improve sleep and self-esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, the ability to manage behavior and emotions, self-awareness and empathy.
· Mindfulness can contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. It can help young people pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory, and enhance planning, problem solving, and reasoning skills.
The studies also show that adolescents who are mindful, either through their character or through learning, tend to experience greater well-being, and that being more mindful tends to accompany more positive emotion, greater popularity and having more friends, and less negative emotion and anxiety.
Changing the structure of the brain
These changes are not all in the imagination of the meditator. Brain imaging studies on adults are showing that mindfulness meditation reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. It produces greater blood flow too, and a thickening of, the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. Although the most striking changes are observable in long term meditators, brain changes are clearly observable in people who have only been meditating for eight weeks for an average of under half an hour a day.
Mindfulness for Children and Young People
Research on the effects of mindfulness on young people is not yet as extensive as work with adults but it is now growing rapidly. There is a growing research base both in schools and in clinical settings, and with a wide range of ages and numbers of participants, which suggests that mindfulness training is well worth doing.
Well conducted mindfulness interventions have been shown to be capable of addressing the problems of the young people who take part, and improve their wellbeing, reduce worries, anxiety, distress, reactivity and bad behavior, improve sleep, self esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, and self-regulation and awareness. Adolescents who are mindful, either through temperament or training, tend to experience greater well-being; and mindfulness correlates positively with positive emotion, popularity and friendship- extensiveness, and negatively with negative emotion and anxiety.
Mindfulness has also been shown to contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills in the young. When children and young people pupils learn to be more ‘present’ and less anxious, they often find they can pay attention better and improve the quality of their performance, in the classroom, on the sports field, and in the performing arts for example. They often become more focused, more able to approach situations from a fresh perspective, use existing knowledge more effectively, and pay attention.
Benefits of Reiki for Children
The calming practice of Reiki can benefit children by promoting relaxation and confidence. Learning about and utilizing Reiki at a young age promotes a healthy way of living throughout their lives, helping children make better choices and create balance.
Other Benefits Include:
· Less likely to show signs of excitability and depression
· Improves concentration
· Enhances relaxation and sleep
· Calms and promotes balance
· Enhances self awareness and self esteem
Reiki treatments are safe and non-invasive. Children today are dealing with anxieties, fears, peer pressures and educational pressures. Childhood ailments such as ear infections, respiratory infections, asthma, G.I. upset and diabetes is on the rise. Reiki has been helpful in the treatment of ADD/ADHD, inattentiveness, irritability, emotional issues, hyperactivity and defiance. Since Reiki works on all levels of the body-physical, mental/emotional and spiritual, the body will be able to use the energy to find balance in its own way. It will adjust to the moment and the needs of the individual. Because Reiki is balancing, it can be of benefit regardless of the type of “disorder” and can provide soothing moments for parents and kids alike.
A practitioner can simply be in the same room with a child, offering the energy gently, without touching or even being near the child. Some practitioners just spend time with the child, playing or coloring; letting the child guide the session. As the child becomes more comfortable and as the energy begins to work, changes can be made how the child receives Reiki. Changes may come gradually, as is the case with Reiki and many other natural healing techniques. Parents are encouraged to learn Reiki so their child can receive daily treatments. Children who learn Reiki benefit from empowerment as well as its calming and restorative effects.
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular among American children. A national survey found that 3% of U.S. children (1.7 million) did yoga as of 2012 — that’s 400,000 more children than in 2007.
Yoga and mindfulness have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in school-age children (ages 6 to 12). Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children. Yoga and mindfulness offer psychological benefits for children as well. A growing body of research has already shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children.
Emerging research studies also suggest that yoga can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by improving the core symptoms of ADHD, including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It can also boost school performance in children with ADHD. A growing number of schools now integrate yoga and mindfulness into physical education programs or classroom curriculums, and many yoga studios offer classes for school-age children. Yoga can be playful and interactive for parents and children at home, as well.
Yoga is really effective because it’s so tangible. Learning physical postures builds confidence and strength as well as the mind-body connection. The effects of yoga go beyond physical fitness and also allow kids to build confidence and awareness beyond the classroom. Through yoga, kids start to realize that they are strong and then are able to take that strength, confidence, acceptance, and compassion out into the world.
Meditation can be short and simple, and does not have to involve complex yoga poses or staying still in a quiet, dark room. One parent, who is also a physician, describes playing a “meditation game” with her children before bedtime, when she turns off electronic devices and reflects on the day with her children, using questions like, “What are you grateful for today?”
Signs of mental illness in children
Recognizing mental health conditions can be difficult, but according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there are some tell-tale warning signs adults can look for, including:
Severe mood swings that can negatively impact school or relationships
Intense worries or a sense of impending doom that interfere with a child’s normal daily activities, including class, hanging with friends, and sports
Signs of sadness or withdrawal for longer than two weeks, including crying regularly, lack of motivation or energy, and a wide range of emotions that can include feelings of fatigue, worthlessness, or hopelessness
Overwhelming fear for no reason, often accompanied by a quickened heart rate, physical discomfort, or hastened breathing
Significant changes in personality, behavior, or sleeping habits, such as waking up early, becoming agitated, increased aggression, or lack of sleep altogether (insomnia)
Difficulty concentrating or remaining still in school, leading to poor work performance or failure in classes
Having discussions about or exhibiting signs of self-harm, or making plans or attempts to kill or harm oneself
Participating in out-of-control or high-risk behavior that causes harm to themselves or others
Lack of eating, signs of vomiting up or utilizing laxatives to lose weight, or signs of significant weight loss or weight gain can signal an eating disorder as well as body dysmorphia
Signs of repetitive use of drugs or alcohol
However, it is also important to understand the unique differences between childhood, adolescent, and adult mental illness. According to the Lindner Center of Hope, there are some key differences between adult and adolescent mental health:
Adults are often more withdrawn when experiencing depression, even withdrawing from groups of friends. Teenagers, however, may become more withdrawn from family, but may still be close with friends at school.
Teens with depression may experience a significant change in sleep patterns but are less likely to develop insomnia compared to adults with depression.
Teenagers may be more likely to express irritability or anger when struggling with anxiety, depression, or related conditions, whereas adults are more likely to express sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and become increasingly withdrawn from those around them.
Children’s mental health statistics
Below are various statistics on the frequency and prevalence of mental illness in children, adolescents, and youths.
According to WHO: “Worldwide 10-20% (1 in 5) of children and adolescents experience mental disorders. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and three-quarters by the mid-20s. Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people in all regions.”
The Child Mind Institute’s 2017 Children’s Mental Health Report focused on the teenage years, which are a period of significant risk for adolescents in the potential development of mental health conditions. As noted by the report, the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed until age 25, and many mental health conditions become apparent before age 24. Increasing understanding around these conditions, as well as combating stigma, will help future generations of children and their parents become more aware of these conditions and potentially seek help at an early stage.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled statistics related to childhood mental health disorders and their prevalence over the years. According to its research:
The most prevalent diagnosed mental health conditions for children between ages 2 or 3 and 17 include ADHD (9.4%), behavioral problems (7.4%), anxiety (7.1%), and depression (3.2%). For some children, these conditions may occur together or simultaneously. Most notably, depression and anxiety commonly occur together, and depression or anxiety occur alongside behavioral problems.
Additionally, the prevalence of depression and anxiety amongst adolescents and children has increased steadily over time.
Many mental conditions and behavioral problems can begin between ages 2 and 8. According to the CDC, one in six children between 2 and 8 have a behavioral or mental health condition.
The rate of depression and anxiety among adolescents increases over time, with many symptoms manifesting between ages 12 and 17. Behavioral problems, however, are more likely to affect children between ages 6 and 11.
Additionally, boys are more likely than girls to have behavioral issues, and underprivileged children can be more susceptible to the development of mental health conditions either in childhood or later in life.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Adolescent Health offers additional information on the impact mental health disorders can have on children, youths, and adolescents. Specifically, within adolescents, the prevalence of major depressive episodes (depression lasting longer than two weeks out of a year) have increased by nearly a third from 2005 to 2014. Additionally, suicide has become the second leading cause of death for adolescents between ages 15 and 24, and in 2013 and 2014, adolescents between ages 10 and 14 were more likely to die by suicide than a motor vehicle accident.
Risk factors for mental illness
Bullying, either in person or online (cyberbullying), is a common risk factor for developing mental illness.
Young women as well as transgender boys and girls are more likely to experience bullying and harassment throughout their childhood based on their gender identity, both from peers and adults.
One study found that social media use was tied to an increased risk of depression in teenage girls specifically. Additionally, rigid beauty standards can often place unrealistic expectations on girls, which they then internalize, lowering their self-esteem, and can cause them to develop mental health or eating disorders.
Young boys can also experience bullying and harassment based on negative or toxic perceptions of what a “man” should be, both physically and emotionally, which can also lead to mental health concerns.
Puberty or hormone fluctuations
Children experiencing puberty may be more likely to develop a mental health condition if they are not properly supported through this period of their life.
Additionally, experiencing early puberty can have a negative effect on self-worth and image. Positive support during this time of physical development can help children adjust, and helping children understand emotional self-regulation can also create a positive impression.
Poor social skills, antisocial behavior, or communication problems
Children who are unable to effectively communicate their needs, or are not being supported when they do, can experience stress or develop negative experiences related to emotions, which can then cause a loop of self-deprecation and self-denial.
Family environment, divorce, or marital conflict
Family instability or conflict can cause serious environmental stress for children at any age.
The stress that individuals (both adults and children) may feel due to lack of financial security can be a significant indicator of future mental health concerns.
Communities of color and black Americans often experience higher amounts of depression, stress, and other mental health issues due to over-policing and high incarceration rates.