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How mindfulness can help your kids destress

Photo source: Channel's Kathryn Daniel

Test scores are up and suspension rates are down in one California school district. Teachers there are crediting the success to a daily meditation practice. In a Baltimore school, detention has been replaced with meditation, to teach students self control and focus. Here in Pensacola, a meditation expert has been using the technique for decades to help children and their parents.

Gallery | Mindfulness helps children de-stress

Dr. Michael DeMaria first read about meditation when he was just 15-years-old. He began an earnest practice of the ancient discipline when he turned 18. DeMaria trained as a child psychologist and spent years working with troubled children, teaching them how to meditate. "To me, more important than reading, writing and arithmetic is helping kids be able to quiet their minds," he said. A quiet mind can lead to impulse control and fewer discipline problems. "Punishment is just not that effective in modifying behavior."

For our story, DeMaria explained and demonstrated a short, guided meditation to our 10-year-old volunteer. She admitted she was afraid she would start laughing. DeMaria said that happens a lot, even with adult students in his weekly meditation and yoga classes. One gentleman came to the group with his wife and could not quit laughing. "He just started cracking up. What I did was have the whole class crack up with him," smiled DeMaria.

DeMaria said giggles are fine and having thoughts during meditation is, too. DeMaria stressed that meditation is not about not thinking, or "blanking out" or shutting off our brains. He said that is the main meditation myth potential practicers get hung up on. He said people should step back while meditating and simply be aware. "It's present moment, non judgmental awareness of simply what is in the here and now. It's that simple and that hard to practice," he said.

DeMaria encourages parents to invite, not expect, your children to meditate with them. If that idea is "too far out" for families, he said leading a meditative walk is just as effective. Have children identify sounds, birds and different plants. DeMaria said having a stretch of focused attention, without electronics, is a valuable exercise. He urges parents to use that level of awareness into family conversations. "When your listening to your kids, really listen to what they are saying. Not all of a sudden planning what you're gonna say next," he said.

For young, school aged patients, he guides them on mental nature walks, asking them to imagine their favorite place. Our volunteer said she enjoyed the practice quite a bit. "I was seeing a lot of birds and it was very sunny outside," she smiled. She shared that the practice made her feel calm and relaxed. She came to our shoot pretty wary of the entire idea, but left wanting to order meditation pillows for her whole family. If you have no time to sit, DeMaria prescribes an ancient, tried and true "micro-meditation," "Close your eyes and take three deep long breaths!"

DeMaria has a free, guided introductory meditation video on YouTube. It's called the 7 x 7 Meditation Intro featuring Dr. Michael DeMaria.

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