Perhaps the single most important thing we have learned about mindfulness so far is that training in it is more useful for children than for adults, and the theory about this is that their brains still have plasticity.
A study that took place in the Netherlands concerned 24 families with children between eight and 12 years of age. Both the kids and 22 parents received eight weeks of mindfulness training. The object was to alleviate their Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
This in itself is problematic, considering that some professionals don’t even believe in ADHD but perceive it as simply “kids being kids.” A descriptive paragraph says:
Mindfulness training is an intervention based on eastern meditation techniques, that helps increasing awareness of the present moment, enhances non-judgmental observation, and reduces automatic responding.
The researchers issue a caveat regarding the subjects, all from families with high socio-economic status, and admit that further research is needed “to determine effectiveness of this treatment in a broad ADHD population and whether this approach is more appropriate for certain subgroups within the ADHD population.”
This is definitely the softest of soft sciences, with results that are not measurable by the inch or the pound, and dependent on self-reporting and on evaluation by parents and teachers who might bring a certain amount of baggage to the procedure. With regard to family dynamics, the study seems to have gotten into some pretty deep territory, leading to doubt about whether the same methods would be appropriate in, for instance, an American public-school setting.
The researchers also write:
Related to this topic, we do not know what element of treatment was most effective; the child mindfulness, the parent mindfulness or was the combination of both crucial for the effectiveness? […] Future studies should compare the effectiveness of mindful parenting, mindfulness for the child and the combination of both, to disentangle these treatment effects.
They didn’t mention this, but it has been said that in “soft science” types of interventions, a certain number of patients will always get better, under any treatment regime, just from knowing that another human being cares enough to help. So there’s that.
Five years later, a study was performed at Bangor University in Wales. A very large proportion of its report is taken up with describing the many difficulties in carrying out such a study, the unsatisfactory paucity of similar previous studies, and the numerous ideas the researchers came up with for the design of future studies.
When academics want to compare the results of research in this field, the available material is limited because each former study had subjects of different ages, or from different types of background, and, worst of all, “used a different type of mindfulness training and delivery format.” Additionally, there is very little previous research on the comparative effectiveness of having these programs delivered by the regular classroom teacher, versus someone from outside.
Another complicating X-factor is that professionals in the field have the impression that although the benefits of mindfulness training don’t always show up right away, there may be a delayed-reaction effect that definitely needs looking at, in the form of more and better followup studies.
This study in the United Kingdom also used an eight-week program, and the subjects were 71 children aged seven to nine. Educators were looking to add mindfulness training to the already established Personal and Social Education curriculum. Although no one understands exactly how or why mindfulness works, it apparently does, at least often enough to make its pursuit worthwhile.
The report explains:
Mindfulness has been defined as a mental state or trait that can be developed and nurtured. It is understood as a dynamic process involving the intentional focus of the mind’s attention on thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions, and the ability to be aware of and connect with these experiences in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness promotes the cultivation of a less automatic mode of mind, enhances awareness of internal processes and reduces reactive patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.
It also says that there have been consistent reports of “associations between enhanced socio-emotional outcomes in children and parental support,” which really should surprise no one. A very positive feature is that it has potential to improve the lives of both untroubled children and those who seem headed for problems.
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Source: “The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents,” NIH.gov, 02/02/11
Source: “Mindfulness Training in Primary Schools Decreases Negative Affect and Increases Meta-Cognition in Children,” FrontiersIn.org, 01/12/16
Photo credit: Abhijit Bhaduri via Visualhunt/CC BY