Does mindfulness work with children and teenagers?

1 Comment

Research shows that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can relieve stress, anxiety and depression in children (Saltzman and Goldin, 2008).

mindfulness teenagers 4

So how well does mindfulness work with healthy children and teenagers?

One study found that teenagers who had participated in a mindfulness training programme reported feeling more positive than a comparative group of teenagers who had not (Schonert-Reichel and Lawlor, 2010) . Wall (2005) taught 11-13 year olds over a 5-week period a combination of mindfulness techniques (sitting meditation and mindful eating) and Tai Chi. The children reported feeling calmer, less reactive, more relaxed and having better sleep. Another study followed 137 girls at a secondary school following a school-based mindfulness programme over six sessions. They found that the girls showed reductions in self-reported negative feelings, tiredness, aches and pains, and they were more likely to have feelings of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance.(Broderick and Metz, 2009).

Research also suggests that mindfulness training can improve attention and memory. When students practice mindfulness, they learn to focus, sustain and shift their attention, which has obvious benefits in terms of school work (Napoli et al, 2005; Zylowska et al. 2008).

So what does a good mindfulness programme for older children and teenagers involve?

A good mindfulness programme will teach the following:

-To recognise the signs and symptoms of stress.
-To understand the link between their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
-To be able to accept their emotions and thoughts without judgement.
-To be able to regulate their emotions.
-To be mindful when carrying out everyday tasks.
-To be mindful when interacting with others.


Related links:

Mindfulness techniques for children and teenagers

Children’s mental health


Mindfulness at school session 1


Mindfulness in school-Session 1mindfulness meditation teenagers

Today I did my first lunchtime session on mindfulness with a group of teenagers at the school I teach at. I had 30 minutes so time was limited. I started with a test to measure perceived stress levels, which I found free to use on the internet at I wanted to get the students to do this test so that we can see if there have been any changes in their perceived levels of stress after the mindfulness sessions have finished.

I then gave the students a questionnaire to get them to think about what might be causing stress. This included a list of things that might be causing them stress such as parents, workload, examinations, friends, appearance etc. and they had to circle the things that were causing them stress.

To introduce the concept of mindfulness and its benefits, I did a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation included evidence from psychological studies to support mindfulness as I wanted to convince the students that it could work at reducing their anxiety and stress. I discussed how mindfulness helps us to focus our attention so that we can control our thoughts and emotions. Many of them said they had problems with reacting too much to what other people say and that the reason they had chosen to come to the mindfulness sessions was to deal with their anger better. I said that mindfulness should help them be less reactive to situations.

After the presentation, I decided to do a sitting meditation with the students. I followed the following script:

Sitting meditation: Students were asked to find a comfortable position to sit in, which encouraged alertness and relaxation. I told them that their backs should be straight but not rigid. I then asked them to close their eyes and read the following script:
‘When you take your position take a moment to settle into your body and become centered before you bring your attention to the sensations and movement of breath through your body. The mind may wander frequently during mindfulness meditation and you can gently redirect your attention back to your breathing. Focus on your breath for two minutes before moving on. Shift your attention to your bodily sensations. Take note of the contact your body has with the chair or floor and the sensations associated with this. Notice the sensations in your body without judgment, just accept them and reflect on them with curiosity and interest, even if it is unpleasant. Bring awareness to any urges you may have to relieve discomfort, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. Do not act on these urges right away, instead just observe the discomfort with acceptance. If you decide to move then do it mindfully, by observing the intention to move and the change in sensation as a result of moving. You may bring awareness to your environment and listen mindfully to the sounds around you. Notice the volume, tone and duration of the sounds without analyzing or judging them. Observe the periods of silence between the sounds also and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
It is okay if thoughts come into your awareness as this is normal activity for the mind. Observe the thought content briefly without becoming absorbed and then gently return to the breath. You may do this many times over, but what is important is that you observe and accept the thoughts and then return your attention to your breath.
Similarly, with emotions that come to the forefront, just observe the type of emotion you are experiencing (such as sadness, anger, boredom) and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
I then asked the students to continue bringing their attention back to their breath for two more minutes.

At the end of the session I encouraged the students to find a quiet spot where they wouldn’t be disturbed and do a 1 minute sitting meditation every day. I suggested they use a stop watch to time the minute. I reinforced the idea of bringing their attention back to their breath and said that with practice they would get better at it.

The students seemed very positive about the session at the end.

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

Mindfulness techniques for children and teenagers


Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings. It has been found to reduce mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, reduce negative thoughts and increase emotional awareness and compassion. It can also improve self-esteem and attention span as well as reducing risky behaviour.
Mindfulness can be taught to children and teenagers using the following techniques:
1)Awareness of an Object: Ask your child to choose an object to draw such as a chair or a cup. Tell them that the aim of the activity is not about their ability to draw but about noticing details. Once they have drawn the object, ask them to draw it a second time and see whether they can identify any details missing from the first drawing that were in the second. Usually, the second drawing is more accurate. Ask them to consider what it was like to spend time really looking at an object that they wouldn’t usually take the time to notice.
2) Awareness of Self in the Environment: Ask your child to focus on a particular part of the day such as getting ready for school over a period of a week. At the beginning of the week, they might focus on what happens more generally in the morning but by the end of the week, they may notice other details such as what they feel and experience as they got dressed, ate their breakfast or walked down the hallway.
3)Paying attention to the senses: Kabat-Zinn who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed the raisin meditation as a way of getting people to pay attention to their senses. Give your child with three raisins/grapes/chocolate buttons and then read the following script to them in a slow, calm voice:
Bring your attention to the raisin, observing it carefully as if you had never
seen one before. Pick up one raisin and feel its texture between your fingers
and notice its colours. Be aware of any thoughts you might be having about
the raisin. Note any thoughts or feelings of liking or disliking raisins if they
come up while you are looking at it. Then lift the raisin to your nose and
smell it for a while and finally, with awareness, bring it to your lips, being
aware of the arm moving the hand to position it correctly and of your mouth
salivating as the mind and body anticipate eating. Take the raisin into your
mouth and chew it slowly, experiencing the actual taste of the raisin. Hold
it in your mouth. When you feel ready to swallow, watch the impulse to
swallow as it comes up, so that even that is experienced consciously. When
you are ready, pick up the second raisin and repeat this process, with a new
raisin, as if it is now the first raisin you have ever seen [Kabat-Zinn, 1990,
p. 27].

4)Awareness of Movement: Ask your child to move around the room as softly as they can as if walking on a delicate glass floor. Ask them to notice each movement, for example, their arms moving side to side or their legs moving upwards. Ask them to move faster and then slower and to notice whether it feels different. You can also get them to focus on their left leg for a few steps and then their right leg.
5)Breathing meditation: Ask your child to breathe normally but to notice how cool air enters the nose and warm air is exhaled. The aim of the breathing meditation is to get your child to focus on the present. Counting will help them to stay focused on the breathing. For example, your child could count to ‘one’ for the first inhale and ‘one’ for the first exhale, then ‘two’ inhale and ‘two’ exhale and so on up to five. Then they can start back at ‘one’. Explain to your child that different thoughts will come into their mind while they are breathing but that they should bring their attention back to breathing/counting starting with ‘one’. Tell them not to judge the thoughts that come into their mind while they are breathing but just mentally note them.
5)Thought meditation: After your child has learnt to be mindful of the present, the next step is to get them to realise how their thoughts affect their feelings and how they are in control of their thoughts. Ask your child to close their eyes and then to spot their next thought.
6)Meditation on the bubble: This involves getting your child to not only be aware of their thoughts but also to let thoughts go without judgement. This can stop them ruminating over certain thoughts or worrying unduly. Read the following script to your child in a slow, calm voice and then allow them to try it for a few minutes:
Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and
shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Imagine bubbles slowly rising
up in front of you. Each bubble contains a thought, feeling, or perception.
See the first bubble rise up. What is inside? See the thought, observe it,
and watch it slowly float away. Try not to judge, evaluate, or think about it
more deeply. Once it has floated out of sight, watch the next bubble appear.
What is inside? Observe it, and watch it slowly float away. If your mind
goes blank, then watch the bubble rise up with “blank” inside and slowly
float away.

7)Visualisation meditation: The aim of this meditation is to get your child to use visualisation as a relaxation technique.
Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and
shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Allow the picture in your mind to
become blank. You are going to imagine a place that feels comfortable, safe,
and relaxing. Think of your place. It might be the beach, a lake, or even
your own bed. Imagine it slowly appearing before you, becoming more and
more clear. Look to your left. What do you see? Look to your right. What is
over there? Look closer. Breathe in. What do you smell? Walk around your
place. Look closer at certain things. Stay focused on your place. How are
you feeling? If you find your thoughts wandering, observe them, and then
focus on bringing the image of your place back into focus in front of you.
(Allow some time.) When you are ready, put your hand in front of your
eyes. Open your eyes. Slowly spread your fingers to allow light in. When
you are ready, slowly remove your hand.

Your child can be asked to remember or draw the scene they have imagined and to use the visualisation whenever they feel anxious.

8) Encourage your child to practice mindfulness regularly to develop control over their thoughts and emotions. For example, you can ask them to really look at the trees, flowers, building etc. when they go for a walk or really think about the tastes, textures and smells of what they are eating.

(Techniques taken from Hooker and Fodor, 2008)

My book  ‘Psychology for Parents: Birth to teens’ is on sale as an e-book on Amazon,, , Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore. It is a comprehensive reference guide for parents covering a wide range of topics including emotional intelligence and mindfulness.

More information about mindfulness can be found at A website run by the Mental Health Foundation. You can take a stress test by following the links on the website.


Silent Sunday

1 Comment



Silent Sunday

Teaching mindfulness to teenagers

Leave a comment

English: Mindfulness Activities

English: Mindfulness Activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My new project at the moment is to teach mindfulness at the secondary school I teach at. So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings. It also involves being able to let go of thoughts and feelings that cause us anxiety. Regular practice of mindfulness helps people to control their thoughts and emotions. It also improves our ability to focus our attention, which is helpful for teenagers revising for their exams. Mindfulness can also stop teenagers reacting to situations and improve their self-esteem and wellbeing. Research shows that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can relieve stress, anxiety and depression in children (Saltzman and Goldin, 2008). Schonert-Reichel and Lawlor (2010) compared teenagers who had participated in the mindfulness education program with those who did not and found significant and positive improvements in their positive emotions, namely optimism. Brain scans show that mindfulness can actually change the way our brain works within 8 weeks.

So how can I teach my teenager to be more mindful?

You could start by going for a short 5 minute walk together and really trying to notice your surroundings. Point out anything in your surroundings that you notice along the way. Avoid being distracted in conversation and talk about your experience afterwards. At the end of the walk have a snack together and really focus on what the snack tastes and smells like. This is called mindful eating and helps us to become more aware of our senses. The next step in developing mindfulness is to become more aware of your body. In order to do this you can do a body scan, which involves bringing awareness to different parts of the body as you lie down or sit on a chair. For example, you might start by paying attention to how your abdomen moves in and out as you breathe; you then pay attention to how your legs, arms or shoulders feel. You can download and listen to free audio scripts on the internet, which teach how to do a body scan.

Related links

Does mindfulness work with children and teenagers?

Mindfulness techniques for children and teenagers

Children’s mental health