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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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The “Gift” of Mindfulness and Meditation

Have you ever told your child to “chill out” but never explained to them how? That’s kind of like when teachers tell children to “think harder” but do not provide cognitive strategies. If you’re parent to a gifted child, you have probably noticed that they may be full of energy, highly inquisitive, mentally restless, and perhaps very intense.

While empirical research has not confirmed that gifted children experienced additional psychological issues, such as heightened anxiety, stress, depression, and sensitivity, qualitative findings and clinical observations suggest that this population might be more at risk. Either way, I don’t think it would hurt to show your child, gifted or otherwise, techniques to help them reduce stress and maintain focus. Research on mindfulness practices, such as meditation, has produced promising results. Transcendental meditation, which involves which involves repeating a mantra or sound for 15-20 minutes, has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia and alcoholism (Elder, Nidich, Moriarty, & Nidich, 2014; Brooks, & Scarano, 1985). While not proving as effective in reducing anxiety as TM (Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014), mindfulness practices (purposely directing one’s attention in the present moment) have also produced promising results, with adults as well as children. Meditation and mindfulness, at least the forms I am describing, are not religion or some hocus-pocus Eastern mystical thing; they are simply techniques or methods to calm the mind by training attention.

The reason I am advocating meditation and mindfulness is because I believe they are perfect, low-cost, natural tools that can be taught to children, including bright, gifted children, who may battle anxiety, perfectionism, depression and other psychological difficulties. While mindfulness and meditation have been mentioned as therapies in gifted education literature (Kaplan 1990, Kane, 2011, Harrison & Van Haneghan, 2011), studies of its impact on gifted children in particular are essentially non-existent. Currently, I am conducting a pilot study in conjunction with a colleague from the University of Tampa to determine the impact of teaching mindfulness techniques to the  gifted elementary students I teach. Until more is known, we have to rely on research pertaining to mindfulness used with children in general, which has shown promising results, including improved memory and focus, reduced stress, and better relationships (Khoury, Sharma, Rush & Fournier, 2015). For example, adolescents prescribed a mindfulness-based curriculum, which included attentive listening to a single sound such as a bell, then using the breath as a focusing point, showed improvement in attention, concentration, and social-emotional competence (Schonert-Reichl  and Lawlor, 2010). In a separate study,  Mrazek, Frankli, Phillips, Baird, & Schooler (2013) shared that, following a two-week mindfulness training aimed at decreasing mind wandering and improving cognitive performance, college students improved on GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity.

While you could seek out a teacher of meditation or mindfulness to help your child, the Internet and bookstores are full of resources to help get you started. Since there are many types of meditation and mindfulness exercises, possibly have your child experiment with several to find which one works best. In the meantime, I’d like to share some easy-to-use mindfulness techniques designed to teach children how to focus and relax (Bailey, 2011).

Exercise 1- Calming Breath

  1. Have your child sit in a comfortable position. Ask them to close their eyes and simply notice their breathing.
  2. As they notice the air move in through the nose and out the mouth, have them think “in” with each breath in, and “out” with each breath out.
  3. Let them know that it’s natural to have distracting thoughts and to simply return their attention back to breathing.
  4. Have them practice the breathing exercise for three minutes (they may get restless—if that happens, you can start with one minute and gradually increase the time with practice).
  5. Have them open their eyes.  Ask them to share their experience. Assure them that there is no right or wrong response.  Have them practice this technique once or twice a day.

Exercise 2- Calming Belly Breathing

  1. Have your child sit in a comfortable position in a chair or on a mat on the floor.
  2. Direct attention to his or her breathing. Tell your child to notice the air as it moves into the lungs when he or she breathes in through the nose, and to follow the air as he or she breathes out through the mouth. Have your child take four breaths in this manner.
  3. Next, instruct your child to place the palm of one hand on his or her belly. The palm should be centered over the navel. Tell your child to feel his or her hand move outward with the belly as a deep breath is taken in. Ask your child to picture the air moving in through the nose and traveling all the way down into the belly, and notice how the belly blows up like a balloon.  As he or she exhales, all of the air flows out of the belly and up through the nose. With each exhalation, the belly flattens and your child will notice his or her hand moving inward. Practice 10 breaths.
  4. Remind your child that when faced with a stressful situation, he or she can use this technique to calm down and feel more relaxed.

 

References

Bailey, M.L. (2011). Parenting your stressed child. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Brooks, J. S.,&Scarano, T. (1985). Transcendental Meditation in the treatment of post-Vietnam adjustment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 64, 212–215. doi:10.1002/j.1556    -6676.1985.tb01078.x

Elder, C., Nidich, S., Moriarty, F., & Nidich, R. (2014). Effect of transcendental meditation on employee stress, depression, and burnout: a randomized controlled study. The                                   Permanente Journal, 18(1), 19-23.

Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York, NY: Harper-Collins.

Harrison, G. E., & Van Haneghan, J. P. (2011). The gifted and the shadow of the night: Dabrowski's overexcitabilities and their correlation to insomnia, death anxiety, and fear of the unknown. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 34(4), 669-697

Kane, M. (2011). Reducing Stress and anxiety in gifted children: The role of contemplative practice. Retrieved from:

http://www.district158.org/weblinks/Gifted%20&%20Talented/Presentations/COCG%20-%20Reducing%20Stress%20and%20Anxiety%20in%20Gifted%20Children.pdf

Kaplan, L. (1990). Helping gifted students with stress management. The Eric Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Retrieved from:                                                                                  www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=ED321493