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Using apps to practice mindfulness improves mental health of children

Mindfulness in children comes with a lot of benefits. For example, it can help kids manage stress, build self-esteem, maintain openness, and improve overall well-being.

But what if children could access all these benefits at home with just an app? 

The Covid pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic forced several drastic changes, including school closures and lockdowns. The inability of children to have physical access to education prompted a team of MIT researchers to carry out an interesting study.

Between 2020 and 2021, the team set out to investigate the benefits of practicing mindfulness remotely from an app. This, they believe, will come in handy when dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

“To some extent, the impact of Covid is out of your control as an individual, but your ability to respond to it and to interpret it may be something that mindfulness can help with,” said MIT graduate student Isaac Treves, the lead author of the study.

Children and remote mindfulness

The researchers found that children who used a mindfulness app from the comfort of their homes for 40 days showed substantial mental health improvements. These children exhibited less stress and negative emotions like fear and loneliness.

The findings suggest that using mindfulness apps at home could help many more kids compared to school-based approaches alone. 

Further research 

The researchers also wanted to see if mindfulness could help kids deal with the challenging emotions brought on by the pandemic. For this purpose, they measured mindfulness among kids between the ages of 8 and 10.

The standardized test employed assesses their tendency to self-blame, dwell on negative thoughts, and suppress feelings.

The kids were asked about how COVID-19 adversely impacted their lives and the levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and other negative emotions they felt.

Managing emotions

The researchers observed the more mindful the kids were, the less COVID-19 affected their moods. Kids who were not very mindful took the pandemic harder emotionally. The kids in this category didn’t get any mindfulness training; it was just about how mindful they naturally were.

“This paper was our best attempt to look at mindfulness specifically in the context of Covid and to think about what are the factors that may help children adapt to the changing circumstances,” said Treves. 

“The takeaway is not that we shouldn’t worry about pandemics because we can just help the kids with mindfulness. People are able to be resilient when they’re in systems that support them and in families that support them.”

Mindfulness training for children

Building on the previous study’s findings, the research team wanted to know if an app could make kids more mindful and happier. They divided the kids from the last study into three groups of 80.

One group received mindfulness training using an Inner Explorer mindfulness app. Another group got an app for listening to audiobooks that were not about mindfulness. The third group had virtual meetings with a facilitator.

The researchers found that all the groups showed better mental health by the end of the study. However, the group with the mindfulness app showed the greatest improvements, especially the kids who practiced their mindfulness exercises.

Future of children and mindfulness

The researchers established that remote, app-based mindfulness training can benefit children. The effects are even greater with consistent exercise and the involvement of parents.

Mindfulness apps ensure a wider reach compared to school-based programs while requiring fewer resources. The kids also work at their own pace and repeat their favorite practices.

More about mindfulness

In today’s whirlwind of digital distractions and constant commitments, mindfulness emerges as a respite for our cluttered minds. It isn’t just a trend; it’s a practical response to the chaos we often navigate.

As mentioned in the study above on children and mindfulness, integrating mindfulness into daily life means actively engaging in the present moment, acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgment. This practice roots itself deeply in centuries-old meditative traditions, but its relevance echoes more than ever in our modern age’s cacophony.

The basics

First, let’s delve into what it means for adults and children to practice mindfulness on a fundamental level. Picture this: you’re not merely sitting in a quiet room with eyes closed. You’re choosing to immerse yourself fully in the here and now, focusing on your breath, and centering your attention away from the jumble of thoughts that typically crowd your mind. By doing so, you’re training your brain to dwell in the present, steering it gently back when it drifts to past regrets or future anxieties.

Huge benefits

But why does mindfulness matter? It’s not about escaping reality but enhancing your response to it. Studies reveal that when you engage in mindfulness, you’re actively participating in your health and well-being.

Researchers from various fields have documented the positive impacts of mindfulness on stress reduction, improvement in emotional reactivity, and the strengthening of cognitive focus. Furthermore, those practicing mindfulness can develop a deeper connection to themselves and others, cultivating empathy and compassion in their interpersonal relationships.

Start small

Bringing mindfulness into your daily routine doesn’t demand a complete lifestyle overhaul. Begin with small, active steps. Dedicate a few minutes each day to observe your breath, consciously noting the environment around you without allowing external pressures to shape your observations.

Engage with every task at hand, be it washing dishes or listening to a friend, with full intention and attention. By anchoring your actions in mindfulness, you’ll find a richer, more resonant quality in even the simplest activities.

Being mindful at work

Mindfulness also extends its influence into the professional sphere. Companies increasingly recognize the value of this practice, encouraging employees to engage in mindful exercises to boost productivity and enhance workplace morale. By reducing burnout and anxiety, mindfulness paves the way for a more focused, creative, and stress-free environment.

Patience and practice

In embracing mindfulness, remember that patience and practice are crucial. It’s about returning to the present, again and again, building a mental resilience and openness to the ebb and flow of life. You’re not seeking a void, but rather creating a space where you, actively and consciously, acknowledge and accept your innermost thoughts and emotions, engaging with them in a healthier, more grounded way.

Children, teens and adults all benefit from mindfulness

In summary, mindfulness isn’t a temporary escape from the chaos of life, but a sustainable practice that enables you to dive into a world of chaos with an anchor of calmness and clarity. It’s about active engagement with the present, a skill that requires cultivation and commitment, offering immeasurable rewards that ripple through every aspect of personal and professional life. By embracing mindfulness, you’re not just surviving the storm; you’re learning to dance in the rain.

The study is published in the journal Mindfulness.

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