Meditation Helps Kids Chill Out, Reduce Impulsivity

Meditation helps kids reduce impulsivity, control emotions and ease stress.

May 20, 2013, 3:11 PM

May 21, 2013— -- The words "zen" and "child" don't exactly go together, but that hasn't stopped a growing number of parents from "ohm schooling" their kids in the art of yoga, meditation and relaxation.

Andrew Kelly of Boston said he and his 10-year-old son, Hayden, have been meditating together since Hayden was 7 years old. Each morning before school, father and son sit on cushions, legs crossed, eyes closed, quietly monitoring the rise and fall of their chests as they breathe.

"We do this for exactly 12 minutes because 12 is his favorite number," Kelly explained.

Kelly said they practice "mindfulness" -- a series of meditation techniques that slow the mind and fix attention on the present. The brain chills out, slows down and focuses on what is happening at the moment.

Teaching meditation to children has attracted some high-profile advocates. Perhaps the highest-profile children's meditation advocate is actress Goldie Hawn, whose MindUp program has shown more than 150,000 children worldwide how to find their brain's happy place.

"We teach the kids to take brain breaks, because every brain needs a break, and because we know that meditation builds a stronger brain," Hawn told "We start them on these mindfulness and relaxation techniques very young so they can carry them their entire lives."

Hawn said she has spent the past 10 years studying how the brain works and consulting with neurologists and psychologists to create her program. For the stressed-out kids she can't reach directly, she's written a guidebook, "10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children -- and Ourselves -- the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives," which takes parents and educators through a step-by-step meditation practice suitable for kids of all ages.

Film director David Lynch started a foundation eight years ago to provide scholarships for school-age children all over the world to study transcendental meditation.

And Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, championed "The Skills for Life" program that teaches deep breathing exercises, meditation and problem solving as part of the elementary school curriculum in several Ohio school districts.

Studies seem to emphasize the benefits of meditation. Tweet Chat on the Health Benefits of Yoga and Meditation Today at 1 PM, ET

A University of California, Los Angeles study found second- and third-graders who practiced "mindful" meditation techniques for 30 minutes twice a week for eight weeks had improved behavior and scored higher on tests requiring memory, attention and focus than the nonmeditators.

Another study of more than 3,000 children in the San Francisco Unified School District found a dramatic improvement in math test scores and overall academic performance among students who practiced transcendental meditation, a form of mediation that promotes relaxation and "an awakening" of the mind. The study also found a decrease in student suspensions, expulsions and dropout rates.

And other recent studies have demonstrated the ability of "mindfulness" techniques, especially those used in meditation, yoga and tai chi, to reduce impulsiveness, control emotions and ease stress.

Children today are certainly more stressed out than their parents likely realize. One in five children said they worried a lot or a great deal about things going on in their lives, and more than 30 percent admitted to such stress-related symptoms as difficulty sleeping, according to the American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America report. Yet, the same report found that only 8 percent of parents were aware that their children experienced any stress at all.

Learn All About Yoga Hybrids

Despite some high-profile Hollywood interest, kids meditation is mainly a grassroots movement that is slowly gaining a toehold in schools, small studios and homes across the country.

Kelly, the Boston father who has meditated with his son for three years, founded a children's meditation program called Boston Buddha four years ago and began teaching "mindfulness" techniques to K-5 students in the Milton, Mass., School District.

His youngest students -- second-graders and below -- practice a series of exercises that focus on the five senses. This, he said, helps them learn how the sound of a pencil tapping, the smell of pizza or the sight of a classmate fidgeting can distract them.

"The magic moment where they understand mindfulness is when they can catch themselves not paying attention. That's their chance to control their impulsivity. It helps them stop themselves from doing things like jumping on the couch or whacking their younger brother," Kelly said.

For parents who can't find a nearby program or, like Kelly, is willing to teach meditation techniques to their children themselves, there are plenty of resources.

The Teach Children Meditation Facebook fan page advises parents on how to teach their kids to meditate. There are also dozens of podcasts, audio recordings and websites dedicated to children's meditation.

And, of course, there's even an app for meditation: The Smiling Mind website and free smartphone app have downloadable programs that lead children as young as 7 through a mindfulness meditation practice.

Tweet Chat: The Health Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

A regular mindfulness practice can benefit any brain of any age.

Join Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent, for a one-hour tweet chat on the health benefits of yoga and meditation today from 1-2 p.m. ET.

Experts from the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the Cleveland Clinic and many other organizations will be tweeting in as well as top yogis and average yoga and meditation lovers from around the world.

Want to participate? It's easy. Here's how. Follow the conversation or jump in with comments and questions of your own.