Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools: Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

Sim­i­lar research is get­ting under­way in the Unit­ed States. Susan Smal­l­ey, a geneti­cist and the direc­tor of the new Mind­ful Aware­ness Research Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Ange­les, has found that a mod­i­fied ver­sion of MBSR can help teenagers with Atten­tion Deficit Hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty Dis­or­der (ADHD) by reduc­ing their anx­i­ety and increas­ing their abil­i­ty to focus. She is con­tin­u­ing to work with ADHD teens, but her encour­ag­ing results have prompt­ed her to won­der if MBSR might help oth­er groups of chil­dren par­tic­u­lar­ly preschool­ers, who must learn to reg­u­late their emo­tions and behav­iors to be suc­cess­ful through­out school. She con­tact­ed Kaiser and togeth­er they launched a pro­gram with chil­dren attend­ing a preschool run by UCLA. They adapt­ed a ver­sion of Kaiser’s cur­ricu­lum to see if it could be taught to such young kids; their results so far indi­cate that it can. Now they’re embark­ing on a series of stud­ies over the next year that will com­pare a con­trol group to the UCLA preschool­ers, as well as to sec­ond and fourth graders at Tolu­ca Lake.

We want to find out if mind­ful­ness can help chil­dren over their entire lifes­pan, and if it might help inoc­u­late them against psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems lat­er in life,” says Smalley.

Patri­cia Jen­nings, a researcher at the Gar­ri­son Insti­tute, finds much of this research encour­ag­ing but says more work is nec­es­sary to prove the effec­tive­ness of mind­ful­ness pro­grams. In par­tic­u­lar, she hopes stud­ies will focus on spe­cif­ic com­po­nents of these pro­grams and con­trol for oth­er fac­tors that might be oper­at­ing on the kids. This will give researchers and prac­ti­tion­ers a bet­ter sense of which aspects of the pro­grams have the most pos­i­tive effects on chil­dren. “If we found some­thing, like breath aware­ness, that is effec­tive at reduc­ing stress and requires very lit­tle in terms of teacher train­ing or cost, we would have a lot eas­i­er time get­ting it into school cur­ric­u­la,” she says.

Despite these con­cerns, teach­ers have encoun­tered lit­tle resis­tance to intro­duc­ing mind­ful­ness to their stu­dents, and they report gen­er­al­ly pos­i­tive results. Though some expressed ini­tial con­cern about how par­ents might react to the pro­grams which, after all, grew out of spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tions prac­ti­tion­ers and researchers say they have suc­cess­ful­ly removed mind­ful­ness from any reli­gious con­text. I don’t even like to use the word Med­i­ta­tion when I talk about Mind­ful­ness, since it has reli­gious con­no­ta­tions for some, says Smal­l­ey. The pro­grams we are study­ing are about stress reduc­tion and increas­ing aware­ness and are total­ly secular.

Still, there’s like­ly to be con­tro­ver­sy around these pro­grams as they expand, says Goldie Hawn. “There will always be peo­ple who see this as scary, or as some kind of East­ern phi­los­o­phy that they don’t want for their kids,” she says.

But, she adds, most peo­ple find research results con­vinc­ing, and she believes research will even­tu­al­ly show that mind­ful­ness helps kids in much the same way it’s already been shown to help adults. “Mind­ful­ness gives kids a tool for under­stand­ing how their brain works, for hav­ing more self-con­trol,” says Hawn. “If we know it also has the poten­tial to decrease stress, decrease depres­sion, and increase health and hap­pi­ness like the research on adults shows would­n’t it be self­ish to with­hold it from children?”

At Tolu­ca Lake Ele­men­tary School, the stu­dents make their own argu­ments in favor of mind­ful­ness. “Last week, I made a pic­ture of a heart to give to a spe­cial friend of mine, but my lit­tle broth­er ripped it up. I was real­ly mad at him,” says Emi­ly, of Daniel Mur­phy’s sec­ond grade class. She paus­es a moment before adding, “Breath­ing helped me to calm my anger. I real­ized, Hey, I can just do it over again.’ I nev­er would have thought like that if I had­n’t tak­en the class.”

Jill Suttie Greater Good— Jill Sut­tie, Psy.D., is Greater Good’s book review edi­tor and a free­lance writer. Copy­right Greater Good. Greater Good Mag­a­zine, based at UC-Berke­ley, is a quar­ter­ly mag­a­zine that high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altruism.


  1. E. Okamoto on May 2, 2009 at 3:33

    Thank you so much for this arti­cle. I live and teach in Japan and would love it if there could be such a des­ig­nat­ed pro­gram — (espe­cial­ly since med­i­ta­tion tra­di­tion is so root­ed here). I teach a lot of anx­ious kids who have over­loaded sched­ules and high aca­d­e­m­ic pres­sures, and they could real­ly use an oppor­tu­ni­ty to just stop and be aware of one thing, such as the breath…I’ve made them stop and stretch a bit when they get stressed, and it’s helped quite a bit to get them back on track. Thanks again!

  2. Michael Levy on October 19, 2009 at 4:12

    Let Joy be your feel­ings, Love your attire, Peace your guide and you will dis­cov­er a mys­ti­cal par­adise here on earth.

  3. Binaifer Karanjia on October 20, 2009 at 9:32

    In India, and i believe in some pris­ons in
    Amer­i­ca, yoga asanas (pos­tures) are taught which specif­i­cal­ly release tox­ins in the body. Over a peri­od of time, the qual­i­ty and con­tent of the mind can be mod­i­fied and changed for the pos­i­tive. Just for your inter­est: Shasank asana or the rab­bit pose, if done three times in the morn­ing, after­noon and evening for sev­er­al days rids all feel­ings of anger and irri­ta­tion. Amaz­ing .…do try and see for your­self! Like this, there are so many oth­er asanas for dif­fer­ent needs.

  4. Release Technique on November 2, 2009 at 9:53

    Stress man­age­ment is nec­es­sary for phys­i­cal and men­tal health. Prop­er hor­mone bal­ance is nec­es­sary for stress man­age­ment. I found a web­site very use­ful with its infor­ma­tion on stress management.

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SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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