Parents share many of the same concerns and goals for their children. We all worry about the effect of screen time and the pressures of school. We all hope to encourage adequate nutrition and exercise. We hope that our children will grow to become kind, happy, strong, healthy, and self-assured. Mind/body wellness is a growing area of child research that seeks to improve physical health through the reduction of mental stress. By the same token, taking care of the body can have a tremendous impact on mood and overall happiness. If you’re wondering where to get started on developing your child’s mind/body wellness connection, try one of the following activities.
Interest in martial arts is at an all-time high. Youth programs start as young as three or four. Parents see it as the ideal supplemental education for their kids, as it combines traditional fitness movements with situational awareness and role playing. Students aren’t learning “how to fight” so much as they’re learning how to sense danger, use their own strength, make coordinated movements, and build up discipline. As Jiu-Jitsu Grand Master Rorion Gracie put it: “Self-defense is not just a set of techniques; it’s a state of mind and it begins with the belief that you are worth defending.”
A study published in the journal Nature found that just three months of learning to juggle increased the volume and density of gray matter in the brain’s mid-temporal area and the posterior intraparietal sulcus. Individuals must keep practicing to keep the increased muscle mass, but changes in this area can produce improvements in memory, the use of language, and sensorimotor function. Juggler Chet Pope explained, “It has totally changed my life. It has helped me to be mindful in the things that I do, and no matter how many times that I fail at something, I can always pick myself up, or the ball, and try again.”
Yoga is the perfect place to start for children ages 4-10. A growing body of research suggests yoga can decrease anxiety, curb impulsive behavior, boost attentiveness, and improve executive functioning associated with decision making. For the younger kids, the emphasis is on feeling the body move, reaching the arms and legs, balancing on one foot, and participating in fun energy flow games. Songs, mantras, and chants help reinforce the learning. As the kids get older, attention shifts to improving the quality of movement, maintaining good posture, and using visualization to create a calm, relaxed state.
Mindful meditation teaches kids to connect to themselves, which is critical for connecting with others and their communities at large. The research on meditation benefits for elementary school age children is robust. One study found that kids who learned mindful awareness practices had better executive function after just eight weeks. Another study found that mindful yoga meditations helped kids self-regulate their emotions over the course of a year. Children with ADHD who participated in meditation twice a week with their parents had better concentration at school. A similar study focusing on ADHD boys found that eight weeks of mindfulness training significantly reduced hyperactive behaviors. Mindfulness helps kids reduce anxiety and boost memory function during high stakes testing. A school in California found that adding a half hour of meditation into the day improved attendance and grades, reduced suspensions, and led to a happier student body. Green Child Magazineoffers a number of delightful meditation scripts you can try with your kids at home.
Social-Emotional Learning Activities
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) recommends focusing on five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. There are countless ways to build up these areas, from reading books and reflective writing assignments to class service projects and games like musical chairs. Social-Emotional Learning is part of every NYC school curriculum, but it is important to promote these core competencies in extracurricular activities and home life outside school to reinforce them.
Foster Your Child’s Total Mind-Body Wellness With Enrichment Classes
If you live in the New York City area, contact Shine to enroll your four to 10-year-old in our new “I, Shine” program. This signature class combines yoga, self-defense training, and social-emotional learning activities geared toward total mind/body wellness. Our classes are not based around any particular spiritual philosophy; we welcome children from all religious denominations. Children will learn helpful self-regulation techniques, improve their social skills, develop their independence, and gain self-confidence. These classes are taught by certified special education teacher Elizabeth Chavez.