Mindfulness training should start as soon as kids can grasp the concept

An excerpt from Mind Bubbles: Exploring mindfulness with kids.

I am not a pediatrician.  My training as an OB/GYN taught me to care for mothers-to-be and bring their babies safely into the world—and then hand them over to the waiting pediatrician.  I am also a mom and mindfulness teacher, however, and have thought long and hard over recent years about when the optimal time is to start teaching mindfulness.  After studying mindfulness and meditation for over a decade, I have come to this conclusion—the younger, the better.  Mindfulness training should start as soon as kids can grasp the concept—as young as 3 or 4.

Stress, burnout, and their repercussions are epidemic within the medical community.  Burnout can be the result of extended stress and leads to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.  But stress and burnout aren’t limited to medicine.  Stress starts early and is pernicious.  Adverse childhood events (ACEs) are contributory, but let’s be real–life itself is stressful.  Bad stuff is going to happen.   As a teacher of mindfulness, I can tell you that many adults do not have the tools to manage stress, and the accompanying anxiety, depression, and other health issues just compound the problem.

Wouldn’t it make sense to start teaching these skills at an early age?  OB/GYNs and pediatricians can help promote these tools to parents of young kids.  It’s clear that we live in a world full of distraction and multi-tasking.  Children today are engaged in a fast-paced, media-driven, competitive society alongside adults, and this can lead to increased stress and stress-related problems such as anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness is a way for kids to actively deal with stress.  It can help children calm themselves and focus their attention.  Children are wholly capable of embracing these concepts when presented in a straightforward, enjoyable fashion that appeals directly to them.  Teaching mindfulness of breath is the entryway to understanding and experiencing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an innate human capacity that can easily be embraced by children. It involves paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. Simply said, mindfulness is being aware of what you are doing while you are doing it.  Mindfulness cultivates emotional balance and the ability to pay attention.  Children naturally live in the present.  They learn to worry about the past and fret about the future.  While worry may be necessary at times, it can easily overwhelm our thoughts and emotional life. By learning to direct our attention to our breath, mindfulness teaches us that thoughts and feelings are constantly changing. We don’t have to judge them or identify with them.  We have a choice.  Learning mindfulness skills early in childhood can have immense benefits for future health, happiness, and well being.  There is no better gift we can give our children.

Heather Krantz is an obstetrician-gynecologist and can be reached at HeatherKrantzMD.com. She is the author of Mind Bubbles: Exploring mindfulness with kids.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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