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The Potential Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Early Childhood: A Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective

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Early childhood is marked by substantial development in the self‐regulatory skills supporting school readiness and socioemotional competence. Evidence from developmental social cognitive neuroscience suggests that these skills develop as a function of changes in a dynamic interaction between more top‐down (controlled) regulatory processes and more bottom‐up (automatic) influences on behavior. Mindfulness training—using age‐appropriate activities to exercise children's reflection on their moment‐to‐moment experiences—may support the development of self‐regulation by targeting top‐down processes while lessening bottom‐up influences (such as anxiety, stress, curiosity) to create conditions conducive to reflection, both during problem solving and in more playful, exploratory ways.
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The Potential Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Early
Childhood: A Developmental Social Cognitive
Neuroscience Perspective
Philip David Zelazo and Kristen E. Lyons
University of Minnesota
ABSTRACT—Early childhood is marked by substantial devel-
opment in the self-regulatory skills supporting school readi-
ness and socioemotional competence. Evidence from
developmental social cognitive neuroscience suggests that
these skills develop as a function of changes in a dynamic
interaction between more top-down (controlled) regulatory
processes and more bottom-up (automatic) influences on
behavior. Mindfulness trainingusing age-appropriate
activities to exercise children’s reflection on their moment-
to-moment experiencesmay support the development of
self-regulation by targeting top-down processes while less-
ening bottom-up influences (such as anxiety, stress, curios-
ity) to create conditions conducive to reflection, both
during problem solving and in more playful, exploratory
ways.
KEYWORDS—mindfulness; self-regulation; executive func-
tion; bidirectional influences; intervention
Self-regulation refers generally to the self-control of thought,
action, and emotion. Interest in the development of self-regula-
tion is increasingly pervasive, in part because individual differ-
ences in self-regulation in childhood have been found to predict
important developmental outcomes, including math and reading
skills in preschool and early grades (e.g., Blair & Razza, 2007)
and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores in adolescence (e.g., Eigsti
et al., 2006). Moffit et al. (2011) found that self-regulation in
childhood even predicts physical health, substance dependence,
socioeconomic status, and the likelihood of a criminal conviction
at age 32, after controlling for social class of origin and IQ.
Research on self-regulation has yielded increasingly detailed
models of its more deliberate, top-down neurocognitive aspects
(e.g., chapters in Bunge & Wallis, 2008), often studied under
the rubric of executive function (EF). EF, which includes pro-
cesses such as cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and work-
ing memory (Miyake et al., 2000), develops most rapidly during
the preschool years, together with the growth of neural networks
involving prefrontal cortex (PFC; Zelazo, Carlson, & Kesek,
2008).
Less is known about the impact of bottom-up influences like
stress, arousal, and anxiety on children’s ability to control their
behavior. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe that changes
in bottom-up influences may also contribute to changes in self-
regulation during childhood (e.g., Spear, 2000). During puberty,
for example, changes in the nature and intensity of children’s
motivational drives increase the likelihood of risk taking, at
least under some circumstances (e.g., Steinberg, 2005).
Blair and Dennis’s (2010; see Blair & Urasche, 2011) optimal
balance model of self-regulation highlights bidirectional rela-
tions between arousal and EF, suggesting that automatically
elicited emotional reactions may either promote EF or over-
whelm it, depending on their intensity in relation to an individ-
ual’s fluctuating target (or allostatic set point) for these relations.
In many ways this framework harkens back to the seminal work
of Yerkes and Dodson (1908), who noted that performance on
difficult or complex tasks (such as measures of self-regulation)
is an inverted-U shaped function of physiological arousal. In
support of their model, Blair and Dennis review evidence that
temperamental characteristics (such as approach or withdrawal
We would like to thank the Baumann Foundation and the Mind
and Life Institute (via a Varela award to KEL) for their financial
support of this line of inquiry.
The special section on mindfulness was handled and reviewed by
Robert Roeser and Phil Zelazo. However, this paper was handled by
Nancy Eisenberg for its editorial review process.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Philip David Zelazo, Institute of Child Development, University of
Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0345;
e-mail: zelazo@umn.edu.
©2012 The Authors
Child Development Perspectives ©2012 The Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00241.x
Volume 6, Number 2, 2012, Pages 154–160
CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES
tendencies) are related to self-regulation in ways that are consis-
tent with a bidirectional influence.
Another model that includes a characterization of both
top-down and bottom-up influences on self-regulation is the
iterative reprocessing model (Cunningham & Zelazo, 2007,
2010; Zelazo & Cunningham, 2007). According to this model,
the iterative reprocessing of information via neural circuits that
coordinate hierarchically arranged regions of PFC (Bunge &
Zelazo, 2006; cf. Badre & D’Esposito, 2007; Botvinick, 2008;
Christoff & Gabrieli, 2000; O’Reilly, 2010) is essential for the
deliberate selection, activation (or deactivation), and mainte-
nance in working memory of relatively explicit goals that serve
to influence self-regulation in a top-down fashion. At another
level of analysis, the iterative reprocessing of information corre-
sponds to reflection on one’s subjective experiences and permits
one to consider those experiences consciously in light of addi-
tional aspects of the context in which they occurit puts one’s
experiences into perspective.
Top-down influences, however, continually interact with bot-
tom-up influences. Figure 1 identifies some of the brain regions
involved in the motivated, iterative reprocessing of information,
starting with rapid emotional (approachavoidance) responses
generated in the amygdala that are then fed into orbitofrontal cor-
tex, which furnishes simple approachavoidance (stimulus
reward) rules and is also involved in learning to reverse these
rules. If these simple rules fail to produce an adequate response,
the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) acts as a performance monitor
and signals the need for further, higher level reprocessing of
action-oriented rules in ventro-, dorso-, and rostrolateral regions
of the PFC. According to the model, lateral PFC-mediated repro-
cessing allows one to reprocesses relatively simple rules and
formulate increasingly higher order rules that control the applica-
tion of these simpler rules and engage other neural regions (such
as the insula) in a deliberate fashion. The top-down influence of
lateral PFC on behavior, however, is both occasioned and condi-
tioned by bottom-up input (e.g., from the amygdala), which may
facilitate or interfere with that influence (cf. Damasio, 1999).
With development, children are increasingly able to reflect on
their experiences, resulting in richer, more nuanced character-
izations of a situation, along with greater psychological distance
from what might otherwise be prepotent aspects of that situation
(cf. Trope & Liberman, 2010). This, in turn, facilitates cognitive
flexibility, working memory, inhibitory control, emotional reap-
praisal, theory of mind, and empathic concern for others. Mathe-
matical and computational models have captured aspects of this
approach, leading to testable developmental predictions that
have generated empirical support (e.g., Marcovitch & Zelazo,
2009; see Cunningham & Zelazo, 2010, for a review).
It is now clear that the neural networks underlying reflection are
shaped by experience and strengthened with repeated use (see
Stiles, 2008, for a review). In adults, interventions as short as
2 weeks have produced not only behavioral changes but also
functional and structural (white matter connectivity) changes in
the brain (e.g., Klingberg, 2010, for review). Moreover, a growing
body of laboratory research indicates that self-regulation is sur-
prisingly malleable during the preschool years, when behavioral
and neural plasticity may be particularly pronounced (see Dia-
mond & Lee, 2011, for a review). Curricula designed to foster the
development of self-regulation (including interventions targeting
EF, emotion regulation, and perspective taking) in disadvantaged
children have also yielded promising results (e.g., Bierman et al.,
2008).
Amygdala/
Striatum
Hypothalamus
Somato-Sensory
Cortex
(insula)
OFCp
ACC
DLPFC/
VLPFC
RLPFC
Sensory
Cortex
OFCa
Thalamus
Physiological
Response
Conflict Detection
Hedonic Tone
Context/Link to Actions
Foregrounding/
Backgrounding
Higher-order Organization
Stimulus Evaluation (in context)
Superior
Parietal
Cortex
Rule Storage
Figure 1. Top-down and bottom-up influences on self-regulation interact dynamically through the iterative reprocessing of information in hierarchically
arranged regions of prefrontal cortex.
Note. Based on Cunningham and Zelazo (2007).
Child Development Perspectives, Volume 6, Number 2, 2012, Pages 154–160
Early Childhood Mindfulness 155
From the perspective of the iterative reprocessing model and
consistent with the optimal balance model, an ideal intervention
for promoting the healthy development of self-regulation would
do two things: (a) exercise the top-down process of reflection
(along with underlying neural networks) and (b) modulate poten-
tial bottom-up influences on self-regulation such as anxiety,
arousal, and motivation, which likely interact with top-down
influences in complex ways to facilitate or hamper children’s
ability to recruit the relevant neural networks and engage in
top-down control. One category of intervention that does both is
based on the construct of mindfulness, well-known in clinical
psychology (e.g., Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002) and the
emerging field of contemplative neuroscience (e.g., Lutz, Slagter,
Dunne, & Davidson, 2008), but perhaps less familiar to develop-
mental psychologists.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is a way of attending derived from Asian contem-
plative traditions. According to a classic Buddhist text from the
1st century CE, mindfulness involves reflecting on one’s experi-
ences on a moment-by-moment basis: “You should super-intend
your walking by thinking, ‘I am walking,’ your standing by
thinking, ‘I am standing,’ and so on; that is how you are asked
to apply mindfulness to all such activities” (Ashvaghosha, c. 1st
century). This practice has been secularized in the context of
clinical treatments and psychological research over the last
three decades (e.g., Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985).
Contemporary researchers usually define mindfulness as
observing one’s ongoing experiences, including one’s experience
of what is happening internally (such as thoughts or emotions),
without evaluating or judging each experience (Brown & Ryan,
2003; Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Lutz, Dunne, & Davidson, 2007). The
subjective experience of mindfulness as measured in contempo-
rary research is well captured by the results of a factor analysis
of items from several different mindfulness questionnaires (Baer,
Hopkins, Krietemeyer, Smith, & Toney, 2006). Results revealed
five factors that may be taken as facets of mindfulness: (a)
observing one’s experiences, (b) describing them, (c) acting with
awareness, (d) nonjudging of inner experience, and (e) nonreac-
tivity to inner experience.
In terms of the iterative reprocessing model, being mindful
involves reflecting on the current object of attention (including
internal experiences such as thoughts or emotions) and the cur-
rent context clearly and objectively. Increased reflection results
in a sustained state of purposeful attention that stands in con-
trast to the fragmented automaticity associated with multitasking
(e.g., Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009) and the mind andering that
occurs when one’s attention is captured by thoughts about the
future or the past (see Smallwood & Schooler, 2006). This state
of purposeful reflection facilitates self-regulation by promoting
top-down facets of control (such as sustained attention or cogni-
tive flexibility) and diminishing more bottom-up sources of inter-
ference (such as snap judgments, emotional reactivity, or
a chain reaction of distressing thoughts). Conceptualizing mind-
fulness in terms of the iterative reprocessing model yields spe-
cific predictions about the effects of mindfulness training on
behavior (including increased cognitive flexibility) and neural
function (such as increased ACC function and increased recruit-
ment of frontal regions, including lateral PFC and areas associ-
ated with interoceptive awareness, such as the insula and parts
of medial PFC; Craig, 2009).
In adults, it is possible to cultivate mindfulness through a vari-
ety of meditation-based attentional exercises, including those
constituting Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) train-
ing (Kabat-Zinn, 1982, 2003). The MBSR program has been
widely adopted in clinical settings as a supplemental treatment
for a variety of disorders, from chronic pain and cancer to anxiety
and depression, and a vast body of literature spanning nearly
30 years has documented the beneficial effects of mindfulness
training on physical and psychological health (for reviews, see
Baer, 2003; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).
The typical MBSR program includes 8 weeks of group lessons
supplemented by daily individual practice at home. Attentional
exercises include body scans (sequentially attending to each part
of one’s body, starting with the tip of one’s toes to the top of one’s
head) and breath awareness activities (noticing the sensations in
one’s nose, throat, and chest as one breathes). One can practice
mindfulness during sitting meditations and a variety of other
activities like standing, walking, or eating to encourage the inte-
gration of mindfulness into daily life.
During MBSR training, individuals are instructed to focus
their attention on their moment-to-moment experiences (e.g.,
noticing the many sensations associated with breathing) and are
told that if their attention wanders (such as ruminating over an
interpersonal conflict), then they should bring it back to the cur-
rent moment. In this way, practitioners reflect on their subjective
experiences as they occur without triggering an automatic (and
more bottom-up) sequence of emotional reactions or evaluations
(Grossman et al., 2004; Kabat-Zinn, 1982).
Mindfulness exercises like those in MBSR are explicitly
designed to train the kind of sustained reprocessing of informa-
tion that is required for EF. That is, they exercise those atten-
tional and reflective processes that make it possible to go
beyond simply responding relatively automatically to the most
salient aspects of a situation (such as responding emotionally to
a thought and then ruminating on it). Instead, increased reflec-
tion provides individuals with the psychological distance to
identify other possible, and potentially more appropriate,
responses. In addition to exercising iterative reprocessing and
the neural circuits on which this reprocessing depends, however,
these exercises also encourage a nonjudgmental and nonreactive
attitude that may directly attenuate influences that interfere with
reflection (such as cortisol/stress; e.g., Pechtel & Pizzagalli,
2010; Sapolsky, 1996) and amplify influences that promote
it (such as dopamine/approach-oriented emotions such as
Child Development Perspectives, Volume 6, Number 2, 2012, Pages 154–160
156 Philip David Zelazo and Kristen E. Lyons
happiness and curiosity; e.g., Ashby, Isen, & Turken, 1999). On
the basis of the optimal balance model and the iterative repro-
cessing model, these changes should interact to foster improve-
ments in self-regulation.
Research with adults indicates that mindfulness training does
indeed improve performance on a variety of measuresof self-reg-
ulation (e.g., Baer, 2003; Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2008; Heeren,
Van Broeck, & Philippot, 2009; Mind and Life Education
Research Network, 2012; Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, &
Goolkasian, 2010; Zylowska et al., 2008) and that it is associ-
ated with greater activation in the PFC networks underlying self-
regulation (see Ho
¨lzel et al., 2011, for a review). For example, in
a randomized design, 7 weeks of mindfulness training lessened
the tendency for negativestimuli to interfere with a simple cogni-
tive task (with corresponding reductions in skin conductance
responses to those stimuli), as compared to an active control
group trained in relaxation meditation (Ortner, Kilner, & Zelazo,
2007). Following an 8-week MBSR course, participants showed
increased activation in right dorsolateral and ventrolateral PFC
when attending to present experiences (Farb et al., 2007). In
addition, there is evidence for greater PFC activation during
other tasks in individuals who are higher in mindfulness (Cre-
swell, Way, Eisenberger, & Lieberman, 2007) and in individuals
who have more experience with meditation (Ho
¨lzel et al., 2007).
ADAPTING MINDFULNESS PRACTICES FOR CHILDREN
AND ADOLESCENTS
Standard adult exercises have been adapted for use with chil-
dren and adolescents to create developmentally appropriate
ways to train the core aspects of mindfulness, including non-
judgmentally noticing one’s moment-to-moment experiences,
monitoring attention and redirecting attention when it has wan-
dered, and nonreactively observing one’s thoughts and feelings.
A recent surge of research has revealed that children and ado-
lescents readily engage in these activities and enjoy doing so
(Biegel, Brown, Shapiro, & Schubert, 2009; Broderick & Metz,
2009; Huppert & Johnson, 2010; Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor,
2010; see Burke, 2010, for a review).
As with adults, mindfulness training for children and adoles-
cents typically occurs in small-group sessions that include a vari-
ety of activities, such as body scans, breathing exercises, and
sitting meditations. To compensate for children’s limited self-reg-
ulation skills, the lessons and individual training activities are
shorter for younger participants: Adults may be able to attend to
their breathing for 45 min, but 5-year-olds may only manage for
3 min (Burke, 2010). Mindfulness practices may also involve
more movement-based activities like yoga stretches or rocking of
one’s body, because attempting to remain still for long periods
may be so difficult for young children that it interferes with mind-
ful reflection (e.g., Kaiser-Greenland, 2010).
Instructions are typically simplified, and teachers may use
props or concrete metaphors to help children understand the goals
of mindfulness exercises. For example, to help children under-
stand the notion of a body scan, a teacher may tell children that
he or she will use a hula-hoop as a scanner, just like the scanner
at the grocery store that shines a light on each item it passes. Once
children have practiced with the hula-hoop, the teacher may lead
a group exercise where children use an imaginary hula-hoop to
scan their bodies (e.g., Johnson et al., 2011).
Props may also help children focus on their breathing. For
example, a teacher may place a stuffed animal on a child’s
abdomen and instruct the child to rock it to sleep with gentle
breaths (Kaiser-Greenland, 2010). In addition, to foster chil-
dren’s mindful awareness of the sensation of touching, children
may be asked to manipulate a common object that they are
holding behind their back, and notice how the object feels (e.g.,
“What is the texture of the object? Is it smooth or rough?”).
Such exercises provide an opportunity to emphasize easily over-
looked aspects of their experience: If children touch the object
and tell the teacher what the object is (“It’s a key!”), the teacher
may redirect their attention (saying, “I don’t want you to tell me
what it isI just want you to notice how it feels to you”).
Asking children to focus their attention on their sensations may
lay the foundation for mindful awareness of more complex aspects
of their subjective experience, such as emotions or thoughts. For
example, children may be told that thoughts pass through the
mind like floats pass by in a parade; some of the floats (thoughts)
may grab their attention more than others, but just as they would
not jump onto a float at a parade, they can simply observe their
thoughts as they occur (Saltzman & Goldin, 2008).
Throughout all of these activities, teachers’ own behavior can
serve as an important model for children’s burgeoning mindful-
ness skills. In addition, parents, teachers, and caregivers may turn
many daily experiences into opportunities to promote mindful
awareness by prodding children to notice what is happening in the
current moment in a purposeful and nonreactive way. For exam-
ple, during meals, parents might challenge their children to reflect
on the food they are eating: “Is it hot or cold? Is it hard or soft?”
During a sad moment, parents might ask children: “Where do you
feel sad: in your eyes, in your throat, in your chest?” Before bed-
time, parents might ask children to take deep breaths and notice
how their body feels calmer after breathing slowly.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS TRAINING
From the perspective of the iterative reprocessing model, these
age-appropriate mindfulness training activities target both top-
down and bottom-up influences on self-regulation. That is, train-
ing attention to one’s moment-to-moment experiences exercises
top-down reflection. In addition, practice being nonjudgmental
produces calmness and well-being, as does focusing on the pres-
ent moment instead of, say, ruminating over a recollected source
of anxiety. Thus, at both the cognitive level (attention) and the
emotional level (evaluation), mindfulness training disrupts the
automatic elicitation of emotional responses, resulting in greater
Child Development Perspectives, Volume 6, Number 2, 2012, Pages 154–160
Early Childhood Mindfulness 157
calmness and emotional stability, which in turn may make it
easier to consider multiple aspects of a given situation as well
as multiple possible responses and reactions. Moreover, the
repeated pairing of activation in the PFC (mediating reflection)
and the limbic system (mediating emotional experience) in
response to an emotion-eliciting event should strengthen con-
nections between these neural regions, quite literally growing
the neural circuitry that will support emotion regulation across
the lifespan.
Although experimental research on bottom-up influences on
children’s self-regulation is limited, it does suggest that stress
interferes with children’s self-regulation (e.g., Gunnar & Herrera,
in press) and that positive stimuli may facilitate it (Qu & Zelazo,
2007), perhaps by inducing a mild positive mood and increasing
dopamine levels in the PFC (Ashby et al., 1999). Of course, strong
emotional reactions of any valence might be expected to interfere
with self-regulation (e.g., Sallquist et al., 2009), but findings like
these encourage additional research on the contributions of spe-
cific bottom-up processes to children’s self-regulation, and mind-
fulness training may be a valuable manipulation that allows
experimental research to pursue this question. Importantly, on the
iterative reprocessing account, mindfulness training would be pre-
dicted to be superior to relaxation training or cognitive training
alone by virtue of targeting both top-down and bottom-up influ-
ences on self-regulation.
Recent studies with children and adolescents have found that
mindfulness training improves self-reported emotion regulation
in high school students (Broderick & Metz, 2009); teacher-
reported attention, concentration, and socioemotional compe-
tence in fourth to seventh graders (Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor,
2010); and parent- and teacher-reported self-control in elemen-
tary school-age students with low EF (Flook et al., 2010). In
addition, children’s self-reported mindful awareness is corre-
lated with their EF skills (Oberle et al., in press).
Research using self- or other-report measures is encouraging,
but it remains largely unknown whether mindfulness training in
children leads to improvements in behavioral measures of self-
regulation, and to date, there isnopublishedresearchonthe
effects of mindfulness training in preschoolers, when EF may be
most malleable. Preliminary findings from our laboratory (John-
son et al., 2011), however, indicate that compared to a circle-
time-as-usual control condition (i.e., a regular classroom activ-
ity), children randomly assigned to a brief mindfulness training
curriculum (administered in small groups in biweekly sessions
over the course of 5 weeks) showed improved sustained atten-
tion and perspective taking (assessed using Wellman & Lius,
2004, theory of mind battery; see also Bierman et al., 2008), but
not cognitive flexibility.
CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
Emerging evidence bodes well for the possibility that age-appro-
priate mindfulness practices may be beneficial for children, with
concurrent as well as cascading benefits for academic and social
success. In particular, mindfulness training seems optimally
designed to foster the healthy development of self-regulation
because it targets top-down influences (such as the sustained,
iterative reprocessing of information) while simultaneously
addressing bottom-up influences (e.g., by reducing anxiety). This
is important because self-regulation is strongly predictive of
school readiness (e.g., Blair & Razza, 2007; McClelland et al.,
2007), presumably because it allows children better to adapt to
classroom demands, such as sitting still, sustaining both atten-
tion and motivation toward a task, and maintaining and manipu-
lating information during problem solving (Bierman et al.,
2008), and also because it allows children to learn in a more
active, reflective fashion, in contrast to the incremental drudgery
of skill acquisition (Marcovitch, Jacques, Boseovski, & Zelazo,
2008).
Clearly, however, more research is needed to demonstrate the
efficacy of mindfulness interventions with children in a rigorous
fashion: with random assignment of both trainers and trainees,
active control conditions, efforts to equate both student and
teacher expectancy effects, and validated behavioral (vs. self- or
other-report) measures administered by researchers who are
blind to experimental condition. Future research should also
investigate issues concerning the feasibility of integrating mind-
fulness training activities into routine school-day activities, and
assess the degree of fidelity and dosage that is required for
mindfulness training to be effective, the influence of classroom
and school factors on efficacy, and the duration of any observed
effects. Such research has the potential not only to provide
important knowledge that may be used in applied settings, but
also to provide insight into the causal mechanisms underlying
major age-related changes in self-regulation.
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Child Development Perspectives, Volume 6, Number 2, 2012, Pages 154–160
160 Philip David Zelazo and Kristen E. Lyons
... Self-regulation is defined as the deliberate use of skills to respond to demands of the environment in a contextually appropriate way and to achieve desired goals (Montroy et al., 2014). While there are several models to explain how humans self-regulate (Razza et al., 2015;Siegel, 2009;Willis & Dinehart, 2014;Zelazo & Lyons, 2012), common elements of these models include arousal to external stimuli, intentional awareness of this arousal, and deliberate thoughtful response that balances cognition and emotion to act towards a desired goal. More simply, self-regulation is the ability to control one's emotions, body, and attention in order to function and achieve goals and well-being. ...
... Early childhood is a critical time for the development of self-regulation skills, influenced by language skills, lived experiences, temperament, environment, and genetic inputs. Between the ages of 3 and 7, there is substantial development of the prefrontal cortex, allowing for the development of higher order thinking skills, including executive functioning, effortful control, theory of mind, and empathy (Zelazo & Lyons, 2012), which are all critical for self-regulation development (Razza et al., 2020). Research indicates that most children have foundational self-regulation skills by the end of kindergarten but 35% of children are delayed in their development of self-regulation as much as a year and a half behind their peers (Montroy et al., 2016). ...
... Cultivated through specific contemplative practices, including meditation, breath work, yoga, body scans, and attentional awareness to present moment (Zenner et al., 2014), mindfulness aims to reduce reactivity and judgement of experiences, increase awareness of sensations, feelings, and thoughts, and promote acting with awareness; all skills associated with self-regulation (Brown-Iannuzzi et al., 2014) Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been found to both prevent impulsive behavior and interrupt periods of dysregulation. Research indicates that mindfulness enables cognitive and emotional awareness, diminishes emotional distraction and cognitive rigidity, and allows for intentional regulation of behavior, attention, and emotion (Siegel, 2009;Zelazo & Lyons, 2012). Farb et al. (2012) also found that mindful practices can stop dysregulation by interrupting perseveration on negative thoughts or behaviors, increasing tolerance of difficult emotional sensations, and promoting self-compassion and empathy. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rise in stress, mental health concerns, and externalizing behaviors in children and their caregivers across the globe and illuminated the need to reduce stress levels and support self-regulation skills in even the youngest of children. The goal of this literature review is to describe what research has shown about the use of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) to support young children’s self-regulation in early childhood settings. A total of 18 research studies conducted between 2010 and 2021 were identified. The main purposes of the studies reviewed were to examine the effects of MBIs on the development of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive self-regulation. Results showed that teachers generally found mindfulness practices feasible, acceptable, and effective in their classrooms. Although MBIs were found to have mixed effects on self-regulation in young children, positive effects on self-regulation were significantly greater for children in need of additional support, including those with difficulties or delays in developing self-regulation skills. The current review found a wide variety of MBIs used in early childhood settings globally. The results of this review suggest that teaching mindfulness practices to young children and their caregivers can both support the development of self-regulation of young children and foster socially and emotionally healthy environments in which this development can occur.
... Late childhood years are an important period for growing children as they experience transformation in information processing strategies in the regulation of behavior (Zelaso & Lyons, 2012). Children during this period become less egocentric and develop perspectives of other people's feelings, a sense of right and wrong, and increased levels of self-and social understanding (Eisenberg et al., 2006). ...
... Gleaned from the results of the present study, school-age children's self-compassion, a form of self-regulation that is both important in childhood and subsequently in adolescence, is also practicing mindfulness (Zelaso & Lyons, 2012). Young as they are, being only in the 4 th grade, they are also capable of self-compassion. ...
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The literature has established the relationship between cognitive-motivational variables and achievement. However, there is a limitation of extant research on the role of children's emotionality in achievement in the early grades. The present study tested the hypothesis that self-compassion predicts mathematics achievement in early grade students. A total of 146 4th-grade children responded to the Self-Compassion Scale for Children and a mathematics achievement test as measures of the study variables. Results of regression analysis showed self-compassion as a positive predictor of math scores. These results extended the theorizing on the vital role of self-compassion in the academic achievement of school-age children and in designing appropriate interventions.
... If one's mind wanders from the point of focus, thoughts or sensations are acknowledged and further processing is inhibited as attention is directed back to the point of focus (Bishop et al., 2004). Mindfulness training may improve children's self-regulation as it targets both top-down (controlled) and bottom-up (automatic) processes (Zelazo and Lyons, 2012). That is, the effortful regulation of attention that is key to mindfulness practice trains children's cognitive control (e.g., sustained attention is required to maintain awareness of the present moment) while simultaneously modulating potential bottom-up influences on self-regulation (e.g., arousal and motivation). ...
... That is, the effortful regulation of attention that is key to mindfulness practice trains children's cognitive control (e.g., sustained attention is required to maintain awareness of the present moment) while simultaneously modulating potential bottom-up influences on self-regulation (e.g., arousal and motivation). These bottom-up influences interact with top-down pathways in complex ways to facilitate the recruitment of top-down processes (Zelazo and Lyons, 2012). Recently, Mak et al. (2018) reviewed the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions for improving attention and executive function in children and adolescents aged 5-18 years. ...
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There are a myriad of interventions promoting activities designed to help enhance sustained attention in children and adolescents. In this systematic review, we critically evaluate the evidence behind three popular sustained attention training approaches – cognitive attention training, meditation, and physical activity. Seven databases were searched in addition to secondary searches. Cognitive attention training, meditation training or physical activity intervention studies aimed at improving sustained attention (randomised-controlled or non-randomised-controlled designs) in samples of children and adolescents (3-18 years) were included. We screened 3437 unique articles. Thirty-seven studies satisfied inclusion criteria. In general, cognitive attention training (n = 14) did not reliably improve sustained attention. Physical activity (n = 15) and meditation interventions (n = 8) demonstrated somewhat more potential in enhancing sustained attention, but these effects should be considered preliminary and need to be replicated with greater methodological rigour. Cognitive attention training demonstrated very limited transfer to other aspects of attention. Notably, mindfulness training had rather consistent positive effects on selective attention. Across all three intervention types, there was very weak evidence for transfer to other aspects of cognition, behaviour, and academic achievement. The paper concludes with methodological recommendations for future studies to strengthen the evidence base.
... To the best of our knowledge, the exact mechanism that explains a potential relationship between mindfulness and inhibitory control is yet to be elucidated, though it has been suggested that a mindful state is associated with enhanced top-down executive control over behavior and attenuated bottom-up driven (reflexive) processes [15,16]. This is important, as relevant environmental cues such as stimuli associated with rewards may reflexively capture attention [17] and may challenge subsequent inhibitory control, especially in addiction [18]. ...
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A fundamental question facing neuroscience is how complex behavior is controlled. This book brings together a number of leading cognitive and systems neuroscientists focusing on this question. Presenting a wide range of methods and approaches, these researchers provide novel insights into the neuronal mechanisms that support rule-guided behavior.