Children who actively meditate experience reduced activity in parts of the brain associated with rumination, mind-wandering, and depression. Our team found in the first brain imaging study young people up to 18 years old. Overactivity in this group of brain regions, known as the default mode network, is thought to be involved in the generation of negative self-regulatory thoughts, such as “I’m such a failure,” that are prominent in mental disorders such as depression.
In our study, we compared a simple form of distraction – counting backwards from 10 – with two relatively simple forms of meditation: focusing on the breath and mindful acceptance. Children in the MRI scanner had to use these techniques while watching video clips that cause suffering, such as when a child is being given an injection.
We found that meditation techniques were more effective than distraction in suppressing the activity of this brain network. This supports research from our lab and others showing that martial arts-based meditation techniques and meditation programs are effective in reducing pain and stress in children with cancer or other chronic diseases-and their brothers and sisters-as well as in schoolchildren during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This research is led by medical student Aneesh Kherimportant because meditation techniques such as focusing on the breath or mindful acceptance popular in schools and are increasingly being used to help children cope with stressful experiences. These may include exposure to trauma, medical methods of treatment or even stress related to COVID-19.
Researchers know a lot about what goes on in the brain and body adults during meditation, but there is not enough comparative data for children. Understanding what happens in children’s brains when they meditate is important because the brain develops is structured differently than the brain of an adult.
These findings are also important because caregivers and medical workers often use distraction techniques such as iPads or toys to help children cope pain and sufferingsuch as medical procedures. However, these methods can rely heavily on prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is underdeveloped in youth.
This means that stress and emotion regulation techniques that rely on the prefrontal cortex may work well for adults, but are likely to be less accessible for children. Meditation techniques may be independent of the prefrontal cortex and therefore may be more accessible and effective in helping children cope with stress.
We still have a lot to learn about how meditation affects brain development in children. This includes what types of meditation techniques are most effective, the ideal frequency and duration, and how it affects children differently.
Our study focused on a relatively small sample of 12 children with active cancer and survivors who may have experienced significant distress due to diagnosis, treatment, and uncertainty about the future. Future studies with larger sample sizes—including children with a greater variety of diagnoses and exposure to early adversity or trauma—will help researchers like us better understand how meditation affects children’s brains and bodies.
Our findings highlight the need to understand exactly how meditation techniques work Fascinating recent research began to consider how participation in mindfulness and meditation-based programs can shape the brain functions in children.
Understanding how these techniques work is also important for optimizing how they can be applied in healthcare settings, such as to combat needle-related procedures or to help children cope with the negative effects of stress and trauma.
Citation: Meditation May Help Treat Children Suffering from Trauma, Severe Diagnoses or Other Stressors (September 8, 2022) Retrieved September 8, 2022, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-09-meditation-potential -children-traumas -severe.html
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