How Mindfulness Helps Your Child’s Cognitive Development

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Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Practitioners define mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” It sounds simple, but when we’re immersed in perpetual notifications and constant connection, it’s easy to linger on the past or get anxious about the future. The practice of mindfulness has become increasingly popular in recent years as a tool for dealing with the stress of daily life.

Adults aren’t the only ones who can benefit from mindfulness. How can creating a mindfulness practice with your child help their cognitive development?

Benefits of Mindfulness for Everyone

Mindfulness is simple. Instead of focusing on the future or the past, you work on existing in the present moment. Mindfulness and meditation can go hand in hand, but not all reflections are based on mindfulness and not all mindfulness needs to be traditional meditation. The easiest way to practice mindfulness is also to practice non-judgment. Instead of focusing on each thought that comes into your head and allowing it to pull you forward and back, simply acknowledge the idea. Recognize it without judgment and allow it to pass through you.

Everyone can benefit from practicing mindfulness.

Benefits of mindfulness include but aren’t limited to:

  • Reduced Anxiety
  • Reduced Stress
  • Better Emotional Regulation
  • Lessened Depression Symptoms
  • Cognitive Improvements

Mindfulness and Children’s Cognitive Development

It’s Easier for Children

cognitive development mindfulness

It might seem impossible to get young children to sit still and concentrate for any length of time, but like learning a new language, learning to practice mindfulness is actually easier for young children than it is for adults. They may not have the stressors of a career or paying bills to deal with, but being a kid can be just as stressful. Learning to be mindful can give them a healthy way to cope with that stress.

Like brushing their teeth, doing their homework, or any other habit that your children develop throughout their childhood, mindfulness can become a skill that can serve them well throughout their lives, especially if you start early.

Exploring the Science Behind It

cognitive development mindfulness

The fact that children may take to mindfulness faster has a lot to do with how the brain develops throughout our lives. Mindfulness practices are centered in and around the prefrontal cortex. While the brain continues to change and grow throughout our lives as we learn new skills and make new connections, the prefrontal cortex develops fastest during childhood.

The prefrontal cortex controls things like focus, cognitive control, self-regulation, and judgment, just to name a few. There are all essential parts of growing up and becoming a functional adult. We all experience hardships throughout our lives, from infancy through adulthood and beyond. Our cognitive development starts at birth, even though we only understand stressors like hunger and discomfort at that age.

Incorporating mindfulness from a young age can have cognitive benefits that we’re only just starting to understand.

Setting Up a Mindfulness Practice With Your Child

Setting up a mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be complicated. First, forget any expectations that you might have about mindfulness or meditation. You don’t have to sit still or keep your mind completely blank. Trying to achieve that goal, especially with young children, is nearly impossible and can be incredibly discouraging. Instead, as we mentioned earlier, practice non-judgment. If you sit down to meditate or practice mindfulness and find your mind full of random thoughts, just acknowledge them and let them pass through you.

With kids, start small. Add one mindfulness practice at a time and work with it until it becomes second nature. Once you’ve mastered this first practice, move on to the next skill you’re interested in learning.

Remember that mindfulness doesn’t have to be meditation or sitting still. Eating can be mindful if you’re focusing on the present moment. Exercise can be mindful if that is the only thing you’re focusing on. Again, especially if your exercise is slower-paced like yoga, thoughts might come up. If they do, just acknowledge them and let them go.

Finally, make sure you’re learning these skills along with your kids. The easiest way to convince kids not to do something is to tell them to do it and then do something else. Monkey see monkey do remember? You might find that mindfulness practices are beneficial for you and your kids. Don’t blow them off as some New Age flim-flam until you give them a try.

Stay Mindful

cognitive development mindfulness

Mindfulness can be the perfect solution, whether you’re trying to help a kid diagnosed with anxiety or just looking to add a bit more peace to your daily life. Don’t try to become a mindfulness master overnight, though. Take the time to learn each skill and how it can help you manage the stress of being an adult. You can teach those skills to your children and give them the tools that they’ll need to manage their stressors when they reach adulthood.

Psychology Today: 7 Ways Mindfulness Can Help Children’s Brains

Society of Research in Child Development: The Potential Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Early Childhood: A Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective

Science Direct: Distinguishing the cognitive processes of mindfulness: Developing a standardized mindfulness technique for use in longitudinal randomised control trials

National Library of Medicine: Cognitive Effects of Mindfulness Training: Results of a Pilot Study Based on a Theory Driven Approach

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