Mindfulness for Kids and Young Adults
While this is probably true in most countries, U.S. citizens are reporting significant and sustained increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety related to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, according to recent data from Healthline and YouGov’s COVID-19 tracker.
Women, minorities, people with preexisting health conditions, and adults under 34 all reported higher rates of fear and anxiety, well above historical norms.
Now with the re-opening creating even more anxiety, I think it’s important that we all pay close attention to our own mental states, but also pay attention to children and young adults who may not be as self-aware as those of us who have not only been around longer, but who have experienced more unsettling events in our lives. We know we can get through because we’ve done it before, but they may not have that experience to rely on.
Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with sleeping or eating. New and challenging behaviors are natural responses, and adults can help by showing empathy and patience, and by calmly setting limits when needed. Children take their cues from the adults in their lives, so it is particularly important to check in with our own state of being and take steps to self-regulate. If we can remain calm, they feel safer and more secure. That’s not easy, especially as circumstances continue to change on a regular basis, but that’s where mindfulness can really support our efforts.
As fear and anxiety increase over the re-opening of the economy and people returning to work, spending a little time each day meditating, and practicing breathing exercises throughout the day, will provide us with focus, clarity and an increased sense of well-being.
Even young children can benefit from mindfulness. In addition to helping them feel calmer during this crisis, research confirms that for children, mindfulness can mitigate the effects of bullying, enhance focus in children with ADHD, reduce attention problems, improve mental health and wellbeing, improve social skills when well taught and practiced with children and adolescents. Fostering mindfulness in preschoolers with tools like pictures, objects, food, simple movements, and music, can help them develop an ability to better focus their attention and stay present. A simple mindfulness activity called “Belly Buddies” can strengthen children’s mindfulness. Children listen to music while also noticing the sensation of a small stone or other object on their stomachs rise and fall with each breath. They’ll think it’s fun and you’ll also benefit by the calming effect it has on their behavior.
Teens and young adults are having a particularly rough month due to missing long-awaited and important rituals, from proms to high school and university graduations to facing a challenging, to say the least, environment as they enter the workforce, in addition to all of the stress these years bring under normal circumstances. Throw in social isolation at this critical period of their lives and it’s not surprising that depression is on the rise for this group. Again, even as we may become aggravated with their response to the pandemic, it’s important that we try to practice patience and empathy. Their brains are still developing and they are at a disadvantage when it comes to critical thinking, thanks to the constant flood of hormones they receive during this phase of life.
Mindfulness is a powerful practice for young adults to reduce anxiety, stress and depression, and live life more fully. That brings us to today’s guest, Marc Miller, Chief Happiness Officer of Imagine IT and founder of the Gunnar Project, a mindfulness-based program focused on young adults and the pursuit of happiness versus doing things that make us feel happy.
I so admire the work Marc and his wife Anne are doing with young adults and that they took a tragedy and turned it into something that is helping so many people.
I think it’s important to note that mindfulness can be life-transforming, but it is not a fix-all for every ailment. Depression can be a serious health risk and if you have children or teens that you suspect are suffering, mindfulness can help, but it may be important to take further action.
If teens reach the point where they cannot effectively handle schoolwork, social relationships, or family stress, more traditional therapy can help them learn to cope. Studies show that 2 out of 3 teens benefit significantly from talk therapy and telehealth options are available. If younger children demonstrate an increased desire to spend time alone, experience persistent sadness, sullenness, lack of energy or a loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, pediatric counseling may be considered. Again, these services are available through telehealth options, so there’s no need to go into a clinic during these uncertain times.
Children of all ages need to feel safe, secure, and positive about their present and future. That’s pretty challenging during a time of such uncertainty, but as adults, we can emphasize strengths, hope, and positivity. We can teach them mindful practices to increase their self-efficacy. And we can all show compassion and care, reinforcing that none of us are alone during these difficult times.
Some fabulous resources we've put together for you:
Stop, Breathe & Think Kids for ages 5-10 (FREE APP)