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How mindfulness can help kids look after their mental health

More teenagers in B.C. say they suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, or depression compared to five years ago.
Additionally, nearly 13 per cent of children and youth aged between four and seventeen in B.C. experience significant mental health issues at any given time. This equates to around three-to-four kids in a classroom of 30.
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With this increase in reports of mental health issues, it's important to teach children and youth ways to cope with difficult emotions – and one simple method could be mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about purposely bringing attention to what's happening in the present moment, with an attitude of friendliness and nonjudgment, and research shows that it can help reduce stress and anxiety and manage the symptoms of some mental distress. Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways such as formal and informal meditation, and can help us look at our lives more clearly and give us space to look at problems from different perspectives, without getting tangled in difficult thoughts or feelings that can cause us to feel worse.

"We all experience challenges in our lives like stress, pain and depression that can negatively impact our mental health. Mindfulness can give youth the resilience to rise above those challenges and live life more fully," said Dr. Dzung Vo, adolescent medicine specialist and director of the Centre for Mindfulness at BC Children's Hospital.
"We recommend and practice mindfulness on a regular basis with patients at BC Children's, and we see the impact it has not only on their mental health, but their overall health and wellbeing."

Building a culture of mindfulness

BC Children's is supporting the development of mindfulness practices at the hospital through initiatives like the BC Children's Hospital Centre for Mindfulness. This program, which is one of the first of its kind at an academic pediatric health care centre, supports mindfulness practice, including clinical and educational programs and mindfulness research.

"Mindfulness can help alleviate suffering and increase resilience for children and youth experiencing stress and mental health challenges, help families and caregivers be more present, and help health professionals improve quality of care and increase their resilience," says Dr. Vo.
"This is why we wanted to create a hub of support and grow new and existing mindfulness activities throughout the hospital not just for children, youth experiencing mental health difficulties, but also for families, caregivers and health professionals."

You can learn more about what they do on their website.

Mindfulness tips for children and youth

There are lots of quick and easy mindfulness practices that kids and teenagers can use in moments of stress and anxiety such as school exam season or a difficult emotional situation.

One Dr. Vo recommends, is the STOP meditation.

  • Stop what you're doing and get out of auto pilot mode.
  • Take three mindful breaths.
  • Observe what's happening, right now in this moment with an attitude of kindness and acceptance.
  • Proceed and carry on with what you're doing but with presence and mindfulness without being worried about the future or the past.

Another helpful mindfulness trick is simply to notice what you are experiencing right now through three senses – sound, sight and touch. Take a few slow breaths and ask yourself:

  • What are three things I can hear? (e.g. clock on the wall, car driving past, music, my breathing)
  • What are three things I can see? (this table, my hands, that person walking by)
  • What are three things I can feel? (the chair under me, the floor under my feet, my phone in my pocket)

Dr. Vo also recommends downloading the Breathr app – a free mindfulness app developed by BC Children's that helps guide you through simple practices. It helps youth and those new to the practice of mindfulness learn about the science behind it, and explore different exercises like mindful eating and walking.

If you'd like more information about mindfulness practices, get in touch at mindfulness@cw.bc.ca.

mental health; mindfulness
Children's Health
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