Mindfulness helps poor Children in Brazil deal with Life's Challenges
What do actress Goldie Hawn, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, and Google employees have in common with children in disadvantaged, low-income communities? They are all benefiting from practicing mindfulness, that is, maintaining a nonjudgmental moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. There are meditation-like activities during which you concentrate on your breathing, heartbeat, or other body rhythms to settle down and focus your mind. Mindfulness can also mean being aware of your movements, the world around you, and your interactions with other people – basically, taking notice of what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing as you go about your daily life.
We know that poor children fall behind their higher-income peers in many ways – they do worse in school, are less likely to go to college and get a high-wage job. They are also more likely to be in poor health, and have worse working memory as adults. They’re also much more likely to be exposed to early adversity and trauma, like violence and parental substance abuse, what we often call “adverse childhood experiences,” which have been linked to serious negative health outcomes in adulthood.
At the same time, we are learning at an incredible pace how poverty affects the brain and how interrupted brain development may be the reason why poor children fall so far behind their wealthier peers. We now know that emotional trauma and stress – not just a physical blow to the head – can disrupt brain development, and that life experiences not only affect which structures are developed best in the brain, but how well the brain functions. Many children growing up in poverty are exposed to levels of stress that can be toxic to the brain, especially to the parts of the brain that control emotions and learning.
Neuroscience now indicates that the brain has considerable capacity to recover. But, even better would be for children to develop the capacity to cope with stress – a prevention approach. So, what if we could equip low-income youth with a tool to help them deal with the stressors of their daily lives? In other words, what if we could somehow insulate the brains of at-risk children from the negative effects of poverty and trauma?
Enter mindfulness. Many studies have looked at the effects of mindfulness among adults, and have linked mindfulness to improvements in physical and mental health. These studies, including rigorous evaluation studies published in peer reviewed journals, indicate that mindfulness practice can actually change the structure of our brains, particularly the areas that affect emotion regulation and perspective taking! There is also a growing body of evidence of the power of mindfulness among children and youth. Two recent reviews of both random assignment and quasi-experimental evaluations indicate that mindfulness interventions are associated with reductions in behavior problems and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression in youth. (You can read more about the emerging evidence on mindfulness here, here, and here.)
For more on this article from ChildTrends see this link: http://www.childtrends.org/mindfulness-for-children/