- Author: Marcel Horowitz
- Contributor: Anne Iaccopucci
- Contributor: Evelyn Mandujano
- Contributor: Carson Bain
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As a result of the UC 4-H Mindful Me classes, 77% of participants agreed that they were better able to manage negative emotions, improving their health and wellness.
The social-emotional health of American youth is of growing concern. The Centers for Disease Control reports that anxiety and depression are on the rise in American children ages 3-17, with an estimated 7.1% and 3.2% of children currently being clinically diagnosed, respectively. There are many postulated factors that may influence these trends including social isolation, too much screen time, a focus on personal desires, hyper-competitive activities, over-scheduling, poor diets, lack of sleep, less time outdoors in nature, and over-stimulation.
Skills can be learned to help to mitigate these challenges. For example, learning to be more optimistic and grateful towards others, and for what we have, enhances happiness and quality of life. These positive social skills are important because not only do strong relationships help fend off depression, they are often cited as the most crucial to school and work success. Learning positive coping and emotion regulation skills helps prevent youth from succumbing to common risky stress management techniques, like alcohol and drugs.
How UC Delivers
Three teenagers from the University of California 4-H Youth Development Program taught mindful practices to nearly forty young children. These teens attended several days of training and were guided by their UC ANR Healthy Youth, Families, and Communities Advisor. The teens gained teaching and leadership experience, in addition to their own growth in the practice of mindfulness techniques.
Teen teacher Evelyn Mandujano shared, “Working with adults and teens to teach children the Mindful Me project was a great experience and opportunity to learn how people of all ages can benefit from being mindful and using these practices in our daily lives.” Another teen teacher Ethan Horowitz reflected “that our mindful me project was extremely beneficial towards the children that participated, especially in the category of personal mindfulness and stress management.” Teen teacher Carson Bain added, “What I liked best about doing this project was seeing the kids coming in every week excited and anticipating what the lesson would be for the day.”
Thirty-six first to third graders attended one of the six classes offered in an after school program in Northern California. Skills taught during these classes ranged from mindful eating, active play and breathing exercises, attentive listening skills, practicing gratitude, learning to live in-the-moment, and emotion regulation. Storybooks were foundational to the lessons, and experiential activities further enhanced the learning. The 4-H Mindful Me curriculum was used, which was developed by the University of California 4-H program. These materials are peer-reviewed and available from National 4-H.
Seventy-seven percent of participants agreed that they were better able to manage negative emotions as a result of the Mindful Me classes. Current research has demonstrated the importance of mindfulness training in promoting favorable academic, social-emotional, psychological and behavioral outcomes for youth. The management of negative emotions is critical for problem-solving, on-going positive social interactions, and classroom compliance. It can also improve cardiovascular health, given cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Americans.
Upon completion of the lessons, 55% of students felt they learned to be better listeners. Listening skills are critical components of focus and attention. Over nine percent of children today suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Several studies have shown that deficits in focus and attention make learning in school difficult, which impacts long-term academic success and college readiness. Mindfulness enhances neurological structures for improved cognitive function, which aid in self-regulation and decision making.
At the completion of the classes, 77% of children agreed that you should tell people when you are thankful. Learning to be grateful (and to tell people as much), has been found to increase optimism and positive mental affect. This can lead to a reduction in anxiety and depression, an increase in hopefulness, better work performance and greater social ties. Current research indicates that poor mental health, such as excessive pessimism, anxiety and depression interfere with school success, work success and quality of life. They can also manifest into negative physical health outcomes.
The majority of children in the class -- 77% -- would refer a friend to participate. The 4-H Mindful Me program helps to direct youth on a path to improve the health, wellness, and college readiness of youth. In this way UC ANR is contributing to promoting healthy people and communities in California.