Children are never too young to learn about the benefits of mindfulness
A guest post by Jonny Benjamin MBE.
Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin argues that children are never too young to learn about the benefits of mindfulness
On Friday, 10th May 2019 millions of school children around the world will set aside 30 minutes for a mindfulness lesson. The aim is not only to promote mindfulness itself and its use of relaxation techniques and breathing exercises but also to raise money for mental wellbeing charities, including my own Beyond Shame, Beyond Stigma.
Critics will roll their eyes and doubtless say it’s faddy nonsense and a foolish activity to encourage in ones so young. And to be fair when I first learnt of mindfulness in my twenties, my first reaction was that it was something for chanting hippies but certainly not for me.
Yet I can honestly say that mindfulness has been life-changing for me and I only wish I had been taught it when I was young. I really believe it would have made all the difference to my mental wellbeing. Fortunately, as more people become aware of its benefits, as teachers and parents appreciate that mindful thinking can help even very young children, I think it will become as familiar a part of school life as assemblies or sports.
But before I explain why, let’s first tackle some misconceptions. Mindfulness is a way of being through techniques such as meditation which, with practice, enable you to keep calm and concentrate even in very stressful situations. It is not quasi-religious, it is not cultish, it doesn’t encourage you to zone out, stop thinking and commune with a higher being. On the contrary, it teaches you to ‘be in the moment’, to concentrate and not be overwhelmed by difficult or fearful situations.
It isn’t difficult to learn. When I first did it, I put on the audiobook, Mindfulness For Beginners by mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn and spent ten minutes taking note of my breathing, tuning into my senses and listening to the sounds around me. The effect was amazing. Ten minutes that I will never forget. Ten minutes that gave me a whole new peace of mind. It is an incredibly powerful technique, incredibly effective but like all the best things, incredibly simple.
This is why increasing numbers of schools are using it. Mindful thinking helps children stay calm when they take exams. It allows them to focus in music lessons or when learning their times tables or helping them to swim a length of a pool. It even helps them to relax and be patient when they have to deal with demanding younger brothers and sisters! And it is especially effective in calming hyper active children or those with such diagnoses as Asperger’s, because they learn how controlled breathing can help them feel less anxious and fearful.
Like all techniques, the younger you learn it, the easier it is. This is why I think initiatives like ClassDojo’s A Mindful Moment, which will take place in primary schools all over the world, is so important. Once mindfulness becomes second nature, as unremarkable an event as brushing teeth, it becomes easy to use, even in the most stressful of circumstances.
Every child will inevitably encounter a stressful situation, those ‘bumps’ in the road of life. So, isn’t it better they are taught how to handle them as young as is practicable? I know I wish I had been.
Jonny Benjamin MBE is an award-winning mental health campaigner, film producer, public speaker, writer and vlogger from London. To have your school take part in A Mindful Moment visit here