Why the pandemic is the perfect opportunity to introduce meditation to children

As the globe continues to surf the wave of this unpredictable global pandemic in a time of technological advancement, one question seems to come up often during pediatric outpatient visits: Will the kids be OK?

One thing is for certain: all this uncertainty and stress will surely impact the next generation. Experts across the globe are hypothesizing what inherent traits these “baby zoomers” will gain and how COVID-19 will impact the generation who will grow up remembering the pandemic.  As we settle into this new version of normal, it is important to try to find that magical balance of letting life happen as it should, while also using this unique opportunity to make a positive future impact.

So, what can we do for our children during this time?

First, parents need reassurance and support. It is safe to say that everyone is doing the best they can, and that is good enough. Many experts agree on the importance of ensuring that children eat well, get enough sleep and rest, exercise, and play outdoors while being mentally stimulated. These days, social media adds to this advice and inundates caregivers with (sometimes conflicting) advice on how to maximize immunity and health. This can be overwhelming and can make anyone question their approach. Whatever a family decides to prioritize, we’d like to provide a new tool to help both parents and children gain a new perspective on managing stress and help them focus on the present: meditation.

In the recent past, meditation was thought of as a mysterious spiritual practice conducted by monks, rather than at the doctor’s office or in a mental health clinic. A lot has changed, and by now, the positive effects of meditation on the mind and body have been quite well documented in the medical literature.  Just like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is one of the most researched and practiced psychological treatments for children, meditation addresses the connection between thoughts, attitudes, behavior, and feelings. The difference is meditation is flexible to age, location, and situation.

Meditation has been shown to improve focus/attention, manage stress and control emotional impulses, improve sleep and boost immunity, manage anxiety and depression, and much more. Here are some of the top reasons why this may be a good idea for children during this time:

Like us, children have been forced indoors. Despite all the known benefits of outdoor exposure, COVID-19 forced families into the confinement of their living spaces, which is not without consequences. Whether they were born introverts or forced to become introverts by the pandemic, meditation helps decrease fear, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. A study performed in Sri Lanka on 31 children diagnosed with PTSD after the tsunami in 2004, revealed PTSD symptoms and impairment in functioning were significantly reduced at one-month and remained stable over time. Mindfulness helps them to stay in the present moment, be less reactive, and not get caught up in every thought and emotion.

Perhaps one of the most common concerns brought forth by American parents during the pandemic (and in the era of social media) is the notion that lack of physical interaction with other children will negatively impact their future socializing skills. Meditation offers a unique opportunity for children to get to know themselves. It can also help normalize alone time and self-reflection and set them up for success. It can help them cope with forced external happenings and learn to manage the roller coaster of their emotions.

They need to get away from screens, and the brain needs a break. If parents are having trouble getting children to focus, to complete tasks, to reduce screen time, or to deal with more tantrums and outbursts, meditation can be a positive parenting technique that can help overcome those challenges.

Parents have been forced to resort to even more screen time than usual since the pandemic. Pediatricians, who for years have been counseling on the detrimental effects of screen time, now have to balance this counseling with the sensitivity of knowing that some people simply have no choice. Meditation not only offers strained eyes a break from the screen but also offers children a chance to reduce constant stimulation while enhancing creativity, compassion, and memory.

They need to learn to focus. The more we learn about attention, to more we understand it is a skill that can be developed. How can we expect children to know how to focus if they have never been taught? A few moments of meditation give children that conscious pause to rest their brain and focus on something basic like their breath. Their mind will wander, but daily practice, even if for a few minutes, will improve their ability to focus for longer periods of time.

While there is a myriad of expert opinions on what long term effects this pandemic will have on our children and their physical and mental health, we must also remember the age-old idiom: this too shall pass. We must also be sensitive to not add to parents’ already full plates. Meditation is not meant to be another task on the already burdened shoulder of parents, but quite the opposite: a way to cope with the increasing demands placed on us by the pandemic.

Despite the ubiquitous and understandable parental concerns regarding what type of adults these baby zoomers will turn out to be, pediatricians have a unique opportunity to counsel and provide some small silver linings. For example, many children are learning to adapt quickly to unpredictable situations. Many are becoming adept in technology, which will give them lifelong computer proficiency that may help in future careers. Many more are becoming excellent self-learners, and many parents are getting a unique opportunity to observe their children in a classroom setting. Finally, pediatricians can suggest the introduction of meditation and mindfulness as a means to counteract the possible negative effects the pandemic may have on our children.

Ana Pal and Samira Hodges are pediatricians. They can be reached on Twitter @thepedipals.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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