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Mindfulness - If I Could Wind Back Time for Our Children

By Yvette Vignando - 25th June 2013

If I could rewind time with our kids, teaching them more mindfulness-based habits is one thing I would do.

A few years ago I took on more than I could handle. While being the work-at-home parent for three children, I was launching a website, delivering executive coaching services and doing charity work … so I decided to start a PhD in Psychology at the University of Wollongong. 
I didn’t choose Wollongong because of it being an impossibly long drive away (about 90 minutes) but because I wanted to research with Dr Joseph Ciarrochi – I knew he was interested in emotional intelligence, and I then learned of an opportunity to investigate the effects of mindfulness on adolescents, specifically, using a technique called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  The short story is that I completed one year of that PhD, an ACT training workshop, a lot of reading on mindfulness and ACT, a few interventions in schools, and then realised I couldn’t juggle all the commitments. 
Thankfully, Dr Ciarrochi understood my need to pull out of the PhD at that stage. But the experience introduced me to the benefits of mindfulness in many contexts, and particularly, to its potential to help in the treatment for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And since then, I’ve continued to read research on the benefits of mindfulness for teenagers, including as a preventative measure – a kind of psychological immunisation. 
We’ve published information here before on mindfulness – use the search box to find the articles – here are two examples – Mindfulness Training Reduces Depression in Teenagers http://www.happychild.com.au/articles/mindfulness-training-at-school-red..., and Using Mindfulness for Teacher Wellbeing http://www.happychild.com.au/articles/using-mindfulness-for-teacher-wellbeing. 
What is mindfulness? It’s essentially a practice that teaches us to remain in the present, observing and experiencing the ‘here and now’. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School describes mindfulness as: paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.  
This month, the British Journal of Psychiatry has published more research indicating that after a nine week mindfulness program at school, teens experienced fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and greater overall wellbeing.  The study was led by Professor Willem Kuyken (title) from the University of Exeter and involved 522 students, aged between 12 and 16, from twelve secondary schools; 256 students were taught “Mindfulness in Schools” and the remainder formed the control group. 
Co-creator of the curriculum, Richard Burnett, said they were able to win over even the most sceptical teens:  “Our mindfulness curriculum aims to engage even the most cynical of adolescent audience with the basics of mindfulness. We use striking visuals, film clips and activities to bring it to life without losing the expertise and integrity of classic mindfulness teaching”.
 
Even when followed up during the stressful exam period, the students who received mindfulness training were showing the benefits. I was impressed to read that there was even an effect on low-grade depressive symptoms. Anecdotally, I think low-grade depression is something many parents notice in their teens during stages of their adolescence. Professor Kuyken said “This is potentially a very important finding, given that low-grade depressive symptoms can impair a child’s performance at school, and are also a risk factor for developing adolescent and adult depression.”
I know teachers are already under pressure with a full curriculum. However, many studies using emotional intelligence curricula (link) have shown that taking time away from academic study to focus on social and emotional development reaps academic rewards. So for me, this kind of research reminds us that schools should be teaching skills that will contribute to students’ psychological wellbeing, and their success in the workplace and in future relationships. The next step of course, is funding for teacher training…
Professor Katherine Weare, Honorary Visiting Professor in the Mood Disorders Centre at the University of Exeter expressed it clearly: "These findings are likely to be of great interest to our overstretched schools who are trying to find simple, cost effective and engaging ways to promote the resilience of their students - and of their staff too - at times when adolescence is becoming increasingly challenging, staff under considerable stress, and schools under a good deal of pressure to deliver on all fronts. This study demonstrates that mindfulness shows great promise in promoting wellbeing and reducing problems - which is in line with our knowledge of how helpful well designed and implemented social and emotional learning can be. The next step is to carry out a randomised controlled trial into the MiSP curriculum, involving more schools, pupils and longer follow-ups." 
In the meantime, you can look into teaching mindfulness to your children using free applications, websites and books. Take a look at Smiling Mind http://smilingmind.com.au/ for just one example. Or read the book by Goldie Hawn: 10 Mindful Minutes. (link) 

A few years ago I took on more than I could handle. While being the work-at-home parent for three children, I was launching a website, delivering executive coaching services and doing charity work … so I decided to start a PhD in Psychology at the University of Wollongong

I didn’t choose Wollongong because of it being an impossibly long drive away (about 90 minutes) but because I wanted to research with Dr Joseph Ciarrochi – I knew he was interested in emotional intelligence, and I then learned of an opportunity to investigate the effects of mindfulness on adolescents, specifically, using a technique called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  The short story is that I completed one year of that PhD, an ACT training workshop, a lot of reading on mindfulness and ACT, a few interventions in schools, and then realised I couldn’t juggle all the commitments. 

Thankfully, Dr Ciarrochi understood my need to pull out of the PhD at that stage. But the experience introduced me to the benefits of mindfulness in many contexts, and particularly, to its potential to help in the treatment for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

And since then, I’ve continued to read research on the benefits of mindfulness for teenagers, including as a preventative measure – a kind of psychological immunisation. 
We’ve published information here before on mindfulness – use the search box to find the articles – here are two examples – Mindfulness Training Reduces Depression in Teenagers , and Using Mindfulness for Teacher Wellbeing

What is mindfulness? It’s essentially a practice that teaches us to remain in the present, observing and experiencing the ‘here and now’. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School describes mindfulness as: paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.  

This month, the British Journal of Psychiatry has published research showing that after a nine week mindfulness program at school, teens experienced fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and greater overall wellbeing.  The study was led by Professor of Clinical Psychology, Willem Kuyken from the University of Exeter and involved 522 students, aged between 12 and 16, from twelve secondary schools; 256 students were taught “Mindfulness in Schools” and the remainder formed the control group. 

Co-creator of the curriculum and teacher, Richard Burnett, said they were able to win over even the most sceptical teens:  “Our mindfulness curriculum aims to engage even the most cynical of adolescent audience with the basics of mindfulness. We use striking visuals, film clips and activities to bring it to life without losing the expertise and integrity of classic mindfulness teaching”. Even when followed up during the stressful exam period, the students who received mindfulness training were showing the benefits.

I was impressed to read that there was even an effect on low-grade depressive symptoms. Anecdotally, I think low-grade depression is something many parents notice in their teens during stages of their adolescence. Professor Kuyken said “This is potentially a very important finding, given that low-grade depressive symptoms can impair a child’s performance at school, and are also a risk factor for developing adolescent and adult depression.”

I know teachers are already under pressure with a full curriculum. However, many studies using emotional intelligence curricula have shown that taking time away from academic study to focus on social and emotional development reaps academic rewards. This mindfulness research reminds us that schools should be teaching skills that will contribute to students’ psychological wellbeing, and their success in the workplace and in future relationships. The next step of course, is funding for teacher training…

Professor Katherine Weare, Honorary Visiting Professor in the Mood Disorders Centre at the University of Exeter expressed it clearly: "These findings are likely to be of great interest to our overstretched schools who are trying to find simple, cost effective and engaging ways to promote the resilience of their students - and of their staff too - at times when adolescence is becoming increasingly challenging, staff under considerable stress, and schools under a good deal of pressure to deliver on all fronts. This study demonstrates that mindfulness shows great promise in promoting wellbeing and reducing problems - which is in line with our knowledge of how helpful well designed and implemented social and emotional learning can be. The next step is to carry out a randomised controlled trial into the MiSP curriculum, involving more schools, pupils and longer follow-ups." 

In the meantime, you can look into teaching mindfulness to your children using free applications, websites and books. Take a look at Smiling Mind for just one example. Or read the book by Goldie Hawn: 10 Mindful Minutes

image freedigitalphotos.net

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