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Jan 26, 2015 11:01 AM EST

Mindfulness-Based School Programs Helps Kids Regulate Stress, Be More Optimistic

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A social and emotional learning program makes a positive impact in schools, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that MindUp, a program started by Academy Award winning actress Goldie Hawn to help school children improve their learning abilities, makes fourth and fifth graders better at regulating stress, and were more optimistic and helpful. They were also better liked by their peers than children in a program that taught caring for others but without a mindfulness component. They also found the children in the mindfulness program performed better at math.

"Our findings suggest that children who are taught mindfulness -- to pay attention to the present intentionally and without judgment -- are better positioned to succeed both in school and in life," Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

To measure the MindUPTM program's effectiveness on stress physiology, the researchers collected saliva from the children to analyze their cortisol levels, a stress indicator. They also relied on peer and self-reporting and also measured the children's cognitive abilities, testing skills like memory, concentration and focus.

The study was carried out in four elementary schools in Coquitlam, B.C. in 2008 in what is called a randomized controlled trial. The program which taught caring for others, but without a mindfulness component, was a social responsibility program developed by B.C.'s Ministry of Education.

Schonert-Reichl said there are multiple explanations as to why a mindfulness program could improve a child's math scores.

"One explanation is that learning occurs in social interaction, so if you are less stressed and more attentive, you will able to share and help others, and then be able to achieve more, including excelling in school," she said.

The findings are detailed in the journal Developmental Psychology

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