• Mon, Apr 22 2013

Meditation For Kids Makes Students A Little Smarter And My Toddlers A Little Less Bratty

shutterstock_81454480I used to think the practice of meditation was so “out there” and definitely not for the uber-competitive like I was as a new lawyer. I was so wrong. Not only does research show students who meditate score higher on tests, but my own experience shows the practice makes my toddlers more focused and well-behaved.

Researchers from George Mason University and the University of Illinois are the latest to perform studies confirming the immediate correlation between meditation for kids and improved academic performance.  The study involved separating the class into two groups. One group was taught how to meditate before entering the lecture, while the others had no experience with meditation. After the class lecture, all the students were given a quiz. Their findings concluded that those who meditated did better on the quiz than those who did not. One of the experiments conducted in the study found whether or not the student meditated before class meant the difference between passing or failing the quiz — a major impact.

One researcher explains his experience with the practice:

“Personally, I have found meditation to be helpful for mental clarity, focus and self-discipline,” study researcher Jared Rambsurg, who is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. “I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals.”

Perhaps like on kids of all ages, and their mothers too.

I had been practicing yoga for years and still thought its sister practice, meditation, was too corny for me to try.  ”Sit there and do nothing?” I couldn’t comprehend the point.  I craved the physical practice — of working up a sweat, of stretching and strengthening my body to its limits — to balance my intense job as a lawyer.  The idea of meditating was so far from what I thought I needed that I couldn’t be convinced of its benefits, no matter if my favorite asana teacher told me to do it or if hard-core scientific evidence supported the practice. It took having children to finally come around to the idea of meditation.

When my son was born, I left my career as a full-time lawyer to be a stay-at-home mom and meditation helped me find clarity in the chaos of raising my colicky son. It even helped identify my sanctimommy problem. After a few classes and a lot of home practice, I was convinced of its benefits.  It wasn’t until my son turned four that I felt compelled to add it to our family routine. His fourth birthday party was low-key and small — downright shameful compared to the hypothetical Joneses’ celebrations in Manhattan. Yet he still acted like a sugar-fueled brat when it was over. He wanted more presents, more time with family, and more candy. Instead, he cried when our guests left and he wasn’t being showered with attention.

Although I knew this wasn’t out of the realm for an overwhelmed four-year-old, I wanted to do as much as I could to instill gratitude in my children from a young age. The next day we started a simple practice “meditating” on the things we were grateful for in our lives. We start each session sitting in a little circle – me, my two-year-old and four-year-old – with our hands on our knees and practice a few deep breaths.  We huff and puff like we are going to blow out 100 candles. Every day I am amazed to see how much this simple action of deep breathing focuses their attention and settles them down.

We’ve been doing this mediation practice every day for six weeks and I can truly see a difference in their demeanor. My two-year-old isn’t throwing tantrums like every other toddler (including her older brother when he went through his terrible twos) and my four-year-old spontaneously expresses gratitude for the present moment (typically when he has spotted a fire truck or other emergency vehicle – he’s still four after all). I can only imagine how the practice of meditation will continue to support them and allow them to thrive through their school years. Of course I’m hoping some of the benefits will be better test scores and more scholarships because good education and enrichment opportunities aren’t usually cheap.

(photo: alexmillos/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
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  • meah

    I love this idea! You’ve inspired me to try it too. Thank you!

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      I was reluctant, but I can’t believe how much they get it even at this young age. It’s cool!

  • Kobe

    There was a fascinating podcast on RadioLab a while ago about people with different types of brain chemistry.

    Based on how much dopamine flows into the the frontal cortex during a stressful context (i.e. a standardize test), they sorted people into Worriers and Warriors. The Warriors brains receive just the right amount of dopamine, which focused them and they outperformed their intelligence level. While the Worriers brains where flooded with too much dopamine, which makes the brain foggy and they can’t access all that they know, and so they underperformed based on their intelligence level.

    Interestingly, the Worriers as a group are smarter, and can outperform the Warriors if they prepare properly for the tests and are calm. So it makes complete sense to me that the meditation would help…its calming down the Worriers. As Worrier myself – it gives me hope and the tools to know how to battle the brain fog that is sure to come in stressful situations…:)

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Centering, grounding, and focusing, all very good things!

  • http://twitter.com/relaxedkids Carolyn Clarke

    Hi Carinn! Loved this article about your experience of practicing mindfulness with your kids! Wouldn’t it be amazing if all parents taught their kids mindfulness. I wanted to let you know about my book, Imaginations: Fun Relaxation Stories and Meditations for Kids. It’s a children’s book with guided imagery for mindfulness and relaxation. I would love to contact you to send you a copy for your family- I can’t find an email address for you on Mommyish, so if you are reading this comment and would like a copy, please email me carolyn@suntomoonyoga.com or through my website imaginationsforkids.com.