Mindfulness isn’t just for adults

Assistant Psychologist Emily Kruger writes.

In its most basic form, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present to or aware of what we are doing at one given moment, rather than being overly reactive to a majority of things going on around us. Although mindfulness finds its roots within ancient spiritual traditions, it is very relevant for life today. For example, one could be mindful whilst washing the pots; such as noticing the smell of the soap, the feel of the bubbles on our skin, or even watching how the water runs over our hands. This may seem like an odd concept, as usually whilst we are washing the pots we could be thinking about what to cook for dinner, or remembering that we need to bring the washing inside! Other, more theory-based techniques include the body scan activity, cognitive defusion tasks (leaves on a stream), and the five senses activities. Each of these, in its own way, asks the individual to stay in the present moment without thinking too much about the future. In terms of its evidence base, using mindfulness-based techniques in therapy has been found to reduce depressive symptoms in adult clinical populations and to alleviate symptoms of social phobias.

Research involving children and young people and the effects of mindfulness is still fairly limited; however, it is clear that this research is growing considerably. For example, some researchers have reported that using mindfulness and relaxation work with children displaying symptoms of anxiety significantly decreased their symptoms of test anxiety in school, as well as reduced their symptoms of ADHD. It has also been found that in adolescent students, participating in a mindfulness course at school helped improve self-confidence. Additional research has also explored how mindfulness is effective in helping children manage bullying, as by helping children understand their own and others’ feelings and existence it can help an individual have more of a sense of ‘belonging’.

In terms of my own clinical work, mindfulness is something that I have practised with children who have low-moderate learning disabilities. As a vast amount of research shows that children with a diagnosed learning disability are more likely to have higher stress levels and less resilience than neurotypical children, surely it seems essential to promote mindfulness-based activities because of the positive effect they are evidenced to have? Within this particular population of young people, I have introduced mindfulness as a ‘relaxation’ concept; to help children with additional learning needs alleviate any emotional distress possibly relating to their learning, or reduce behaviours that challenge. For example, using breathing exercises, meditation methods, and being mindful with food or play materials has helped children feel calmer and less stressed during difficult periods. Promoting mindfulness with parents/carers who have a child with additional needs is known to be of benefit, whereby it has been found to reduce parents’/carers’ symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as the stress they may experience from caring for a child with additional difficulties. So my team offers parents/carers of children with learning disabilities a workshop focusing on their own wellbeing, using mindfulness.

It appears that practising mindfulness can be beneficial for children who have additional learning needs, as well as their parents. I would be interested to hear other clinicians’ opinions on this topic, and other case study examples of successfully using mindfulness with children who may have additional needs. Although literature exists exploring the benefits of mindfulness approaches with children who have a diagnosed learning disability, it does not appear that concrete mindfulness programmes exist within learning disability services for children to access, and there currently seems to be more of a focus on positive behaviour support, anxiety interventions, and supporting families with triggers that can lead to behaviours that challenge. I, along with my relativity small team, have witnessed the benefits that practising mindfulness can have on children with a learning disability. I wonder whether this is adopted within other learning disability services, and what feedback has been received. Is mindfulness, therefore, something that we should be promoting more within children’s learning disability services, because of its clear health benefits?

Emily Kruger
Assistant Psychologist

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