Does mindfulness training work for young people?

A meta-analysis published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry aims to establish the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) for children.

Darren Dunning and colleagues carried out a systematic literature search of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of MBIs conducted up to October 2017. Thirty-three studies (3,666 children, ages 18 years or younger) were included in the meta-analysis, with outcome measures categorised into cognitive, behavioural, and emotional. In addition, a separate meta-analysis was completed for 17 RCTs (1,762 children) that had an active control condition (ie, something else that might be expected to benefit participants, but did not include mindfulness).

Across all RCTs, the researchers found small positive effects of MBIs, compared with control groups, for all measures (overall effect size = +0.19). In particular, MBIs led to greater improvements for mindfulness (effect size = +0.24), executive functions (effect size = +0.30), and attention (effect size = +0.13). However, for the RCTs with active control groups, children who completed an MBI improved significantly more than those in the active control groups on outcomes of mindfulness (effect size = +0.42), depression (effect size = +0.47), and anxiety/stress (effect size = +0.18) only.

Source: Research review: The effects of mindfulness‐based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials (October 2018), The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/jcpp.12980

Mindfulness and yoga for primary pupils

A randomised controlled trial published in Psychology Research and Behavior Management assesses the benefits of introducing yoga and mindfulness into elementary (primary) classrooms.

Alessandra N Bazzano and colleagues worked with a public school in New Orleans to add mindfulness and yoga to the school’s existing empathy-based programme for pupils needing extra support. Third grade (Year 4) pupils were screened for symptoms of anxiety (using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders scale), and were then randomly split into an intervention group (n=20) and a control group (n=32). Pupils in the intervention group participated in a yoga and mindfulness programme for eight weeks, while the control group received the standard care, which included counselling and activities from a school social worker. All pupils filled out questionnaires to measure quality of life and life satisfaction across a number of different variables before, during and after the treatment period.

Pupils in the intervention group showed a significantly greater improvement in psychosocial and emotional quality of life compared with pupils who received standard care.

The researchers acknowledge that while this study was small, and more research is needed, introducing pupils to yoga and mindfulness may help to alleviate anxious feelings experienced in third grade due to their work becoming more complex, and learning how to handle these pressures sooner, rather than later, may promote healthy skills throughout life.

Source: Effect of mindfulness and yoga on quality of life for elementary school students and teachers: results of a randomized controlled school-based study (April 2018), Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Volume 2018:11

Impact of secondary school mindfulness programmes

Catherine Johnson and colleagues carried out a randomised controlled evaluation of a secondary school mindfulness programme (called “.b mindfulness” for “Stop, Breathe and Be!”) to measure impact on self-reported measures of anxiety, depression, weight/shape concerns, well-being and mindfulness.

Five hundred and fifty-five pupils in four secondary schools in South Australia participated (mean age = 13.44 years). Pupils were assigned using a cluster (class-based) randomised controlled design to one of three conditions: the nine-week mindfulness curriculum, the nine-week mindfulness curriculum with parental involvement, or a control (business-as-usual) curriculum.

The evaluation found no differences between the mindfulness groups with or without parental involvement and the control group at post-intervention or at the six- and twelve-month follow-up. The researchers conclude that further research is required to identify the optimal age, content, and length of programmes delivering mindfulness to teenagers.

Source: A randomized controlled evaluation of a secondary school mindfulness program for early adolescents: Do we have the recipe right yet? (September 2017), Behaviour Research and Therapy, Vol 99

Mindfulness-based interventions in schools

This Campbell systematic review examines the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) implemented in school settings on cognition, behaviour, socio-emotional outcomes and academic achievement. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, and is often combined with yoga, cognitive-behavioural strategies, or relaxation-skills training.

A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomised or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis, with a total of 6,207 pupil participants. Most of the studies were carried out in schools in the US (74%), with some in Asia (5%), Europe (16%) and Canada (5%). The interventions ranged in duration (4–28 weeks), number of sessions (6–125 sessions) and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week).

The findings show that MBIs in schools have a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socio-emotional outcomes, but do not improve behaviour or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioural outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socio-emotional and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues find a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behaviour and academic achievement.

Source: Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students (March 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:5

Does yoga improve academic performance more than PE?

A recent study published in Mind, Brain, and Education looks at the impact of a yoga programme on the academic performance of secondary school students.

At a New York City public high school, 112 students were randomly assigned to one of four yoga or six PE classes. The students were in Grades 9-11 (age 14-17); 59% were Hispanic and 22% Black, 11% Asian, and 8% White. Both PE and yoga classes met twice a week for 45 minutes throughout the academic year. The yoga curriculum used mindfulness and yoga-based exercises to help students focus on their work and respond appropriately to challenging situations. The PE class included weight lifting, fitness exercises, and common games, varied by the class teacher.

Student achievement was measured using their grade point average (GPA) from the previous and current academic years. Students and staff also completed a number of psychosocial measures, including the Response to Stress Questionnaire and the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure.

The study found no difference in GPA between students assigned to the yoga classes and those assigned to the PE classes. Students who were assigned to the yoga classes were associated with lower scores on the psychosocial scales, although this was not significant. There was a higher level of participation by students in PE classes than yoga classes. However, researchers found that students who had high levels of participation in yoga classes had significantly better GPA than those who had high levels of participation in PE classes.

Source: Yoga Improves Academic Performance in Urban High School Students Compared to Physical Education: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Mind, Brain, and Education (2016).

Positive results for mindfulness programme

Elementary school pupils who took part in a mindfulness programme showed improved social-emotional competencies and maths achievement.

The study in Canada took place in four elementary schools, which were allocated at random to deliver either a mindfulness programme or a social responsibility programme as a control. In total, almost 100 grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) children took part. The mindfulness programme, MindUp, consisted of 12 lessons taught once a week, each lesson lasting around 45 minutes. The programme included mindfulness activities such as breathing and attentive listening and lessons encouraging acts of kindness and community service.

Children in the MindUp programme showed significant improvements in executive function, self-reported well-being, and self- and peer-reported social behaviour. They also demonstrated better maths performance.

The authors argue that although this study is small, it shows potential for this kind of training to improve cognitive skills, social-emotional competence, and well-being in a real-world setting.

Source: Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial (2015), Developmental Psychology, 51(1)