Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)

I have been looking at the research showing the impact of mindfulness programmes for highschool students.

There is a good summary on the Forbes website here: “Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains And Behavior” https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/10/18/the-many-benefits-of-meditation-for-children/#508590e0dbe3

The piece highlights the research cases to demonstrate the impact of mindfulness programmes for kids:

Increased attention – Studies have shown that it can help kids concentrate.  Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) has also been shown to help improve attention and behaviour problems, and reduce anxiety in kids who started out with high anxiety levels. A study  showed, that in boys with ADHD, it significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration..

A bump in attendance and grades in school  –  scientific evidence, suggests that meditation in schools helps improve the things that school officials like to see – grades and attendance. A study found that mindfulness helped kids during high-stakes testing, by reducing their anxiety and boosting working memory.

A reprieve from outside trauma – Not all problems faced by kids are from within the schools. A lot of kids are dealing with major stressors at home. Mindfulness has been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors.

Better mental health – A study  of MBCT-C showed the children who started out with high anxiety had reductions in anxiety symptoms at the end of the 12-week treatment. Another study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.

Self-awareness and self-regulation – Mindfulness is intimately connected to self-awareness (it’s almost the definition of it), and this extends naturally to self-regulation. That is, if you learn to be more aware of your thought processes and reactions in the present moment, it follows that you would be more in charge of your emotions and behaviors.  And the research has backed this up: one study found that kids who learned mindful awareness practices had better executive function (see previous blog post here) after eight weeks of training twice a week.

Social-emotional development  –  A study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program in several measures. Kids demonstrated greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

Yet, in addition to the wellbeing and the behavioural benefits, there are the academic performance benefits.  The UK’s Mindfulness in Schools Project provides link to  paper by Professor Katherine Weare of the University of Southampton who reviewed the research in support of the claims above (here) – affirming the positive impact of mindfulness on depression, anxiety, stress and the avoidance of self-harming and eating disorders; and the improvement of cognition and concentration… leading to better grades.  It seems a no-brainer.

Let’s look at a study by  University of Cambridge (Ref The lancet Public Health, Dec 2017):

At Cambridge University they measured the mental wellbeing of over 1000 students and then gave half of them an 8 week mindfulness course.  They measured the stress levels of the students prior to any training and then during their exam periods.

After the training,  “Mindful Group” showed lower stress levels: –

  • They were a third less likely to  less likely demonstrate stress levels above the threshold normally seen as meriting support.
  • Their stress levels at exam time peaked at levels that were actually below those before taking the course! Suggesting that the mindfulness training had  a long lasting effect to increase their resilience against stresses.

“The evidence is mounting to show that that mindfulness training can help people to cope with accumulative stress.   It appears popular, feasible, acceptable… and without stigma.”  – Professor Peter Jones (Neuroscience, Cambridge University).

So what exactly is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)?

MBCT-C is a psychotherapy for anxious or depressed children adapted from MBCT. The primary aim is to improve affective self-regulation (= retraction to events and emotions)  through development of mindful attention and decentring from thoughts and emotions. The program consists of 12 weekly therapy sessions lasting 90-minutes, conducted individually or in small groups of 6-8 children. Activities are designed to be engaging and developmentally appropriate for children ages 8 to 12.

MBCT-C is described in the book “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Anxious Children: A Manual for Treating Childhood Anxiety” by Randye J. Semple and Jennifer Lee.  The scheme applies the ideas of MBCT in a way that is suitable for children through fun thought exercises and activities –  it includes actives to be done with the family in the home… though please note that the foreword makes it clear then such a programmes.

I hope more schools and colleges will embrace such MBCT-C programmes – not just for those kids with poor wellbeing… but for all pupils.


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