Improve Children and Adolescents Mental Health with Mindfulness

Improve Children and Adolescents Mental Health with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“In the last few years mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.” – Julianne Garey


Childhood is a miraculous period during which the child is dynamically absorbing information from every aspect of its environment. This occurs almost without any intervention from the adults as the child appears to be programmed to learn. It is here that behaviors, knowledge, skills, and attitudes are developed that shape the individual.


Adolescence is a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. It is during this time that higher levels of thinking, sometimes called executive function, develops. But adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required.


Mindfulness training for children and adolescents has been shown to have very positive effects. These include academic, cognitive, psychological, and social domains. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve emotion regulation and to benefit the psychological and emotional health of adolescents. Importantly, mindfulness training with children and adolescents appears to improve the self-conceptimproves attentional ability and reduces stress. The research findings and evidence are accumulating. So, it makes sense to step back and review and summarize what has been learned regarding the effectiveness of mindfulness training for the cognitive growth and mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.


In today’s Research News article “Research Review: The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Dunning and colleagues review, summarize and perform a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of the effects of mindfulness training on the cognitive ability, psychological health, and well-being of children and adolescents. They identified 33 published randomized controlled trials, 17 of which had active control conditions.


They found that over all published studies, mindfulness training resulted in improved cognition and executive function, with larger effects for older children and adolescents. Mindfulness training also produced significantly increased mindfulness and decreased negative behaviors, stress, anxiety and depression. increased mindfulness and decreased stress, anxiety and depression were still significant. But when mindfulness practices were compared to active control conditions cognitive improvements were no longer significant but there were still significant increases in mindfulness and decreases in stress, anxiety and depression.


These results are interesting and suggest that mindfulness training produces significant improvements in the mental health of children and adolescents. The results, however, suggest that reported improvements in cognition and behavior may be due to placebo or experimenter bias effects as these same improvements occurred with active control conditions. The improvements in cognitive ability appears to be maximized in adolescents when high level executive functions are developing. The lack of significant effects in studies with active control conditions may have been due to the small number of studies, 7, that had active controls and studied cognition.


Regardless, the accumulated research suggests that training children and adolescents in mindfulness may help them navigate the difficult emotional challenges confronting them during development.


So, improve children and adolescents’ mental health with mindfulness.


“For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life. It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.” – Annaka Harris


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Dunning, D. L., Griffiths, K., Kuyken, W., Crane, C., Foulkes, L., Parker, J., & Dalgleish, T. (2019). Research Review: The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 60(3), 244–258. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12980




Mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) are an increasingly popular way of attempting to improve the behavioural, cognitive and mental health outcomes of children and adolescents, though there is a suggestion that enthusiasm has moved ahead of the evidence base. Most evaluations of MBIs are either uncontrolled or nonrandomized trials. This meta-analysis aims to establish the efficacy of MBIs for children and adolescents in studies that have adopted a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) design.


A systematic literature search of RCTs of MBIs was conducted up to October 2017. Thirty-three independent studies including 3,666 children and adolescents were included in random effects meta-analyses with outcome measures categorized into cognitive, behavioural and emotional factors. Separate random effects meta-analyses were completed for the seventeen studies (n = 1,762) that used an RCT design with an active control condition.


Across all RCTs we found significant positive effects of MBIs, relative to controls, for the outcome categories of Mindfulness, Executive Functioning, Attention, Depression, Anxiety/Stress and Negative Behaviours, with small effect sizes (Cohen’s d), ranging from .16 to .30. However, when considering only those RCTs with active control groups, significant benefits of an MBI were restricted to the outcomes of Mindfulness (d = .42), Depression (d = .47) and Anxiety/Stress (d = .18) only.


This meta-analysis reinforces the efficacy of using MBIs for improving the mental health and wellbeing of youth as assessed using the gold standard RCT methodology. Future RCT evaluations should incorporate scaled-up definitive trial designs to further evaluate the robustness of MBIs in youth, with an embedded focus on mechanisms of action.

Key points

  • Mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) are a popular way of attempting to improve the mental and physical health outcomes of children and adolescents.
  • This is the first meta-analysis of MBIs with youth composed exclusively of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) including RCTs with active control groups – the gold standard in intervention studies.
  • When using the gold standard research design results showed that MBIs are useful in improving Depression and Anxiety outcomes, but not behavioural or cognitive outcomes,
  • The meta-analysis advocates the use of MBIs for improving mental health in young people.
  • Future RCT evaluations should incorporate scaled-up definitive trial designs to further evaluate the robustness of MBIs in youth, with an embedded focus on mechanisms of action.


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