Transcendental Meditation®

Childhood and adolescent disorders

William Stixrud, Ph.D.

William Stixrud, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of William Stixrud & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, a group practice specializing in learning, attention, and social/emotional disorders. Dr. Stixrud is an adjunct faculty at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Christopher Clark, M.D.

Christopher Clark, M.D., is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, and a recipient of a child psychology fellowship from the University of Washington. He has practiced medicine for over 20 years and is currently a psychiatrist in Vero Beach, Florida.

Here Drs. Stixrud and Clark answer questions on
health for children and adolescents.

Q: Can children learn TM? And, if so, are there any negative side effects? 

Dr. Clark: Children can start the Transcendental Meditation technique at the age of ten. There are no side effects—research has found only positive benefits, such as greater focus, clarity of mind, improved grades at school, higher intelligence, more creativity and self-esteem. Children younger than ten can learn a special walking technique, which has been found to have a harmonious and stabilizing effect.
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Q: Everyone gets nervous about things, but my daughter’s really sensitive. She has anxiety attacks when math tests come up, and almost anything can set her off. Is this normal? 

Dr. Stixrud: Anxiety is very common in children. In fact there are many, many kids with anxiety disorders who are not diagnosed because people don’t take anxiety in children sufficiently seriously. They should take it seriously, because anxiety is the gateway to other mental health problems, in the sense that if you look at people who are depressed as adults, almost all of them have histories of anxiety in childhood.

One of the top experts on stress in the world thinks that depression is the result of a worn-out stress response. In other words, if you’re anxious a lot as a kid, and your stress response—or fight-or flight response—is constantly trying to protect you and filling your brain and your body with stress hormones, that can work for a while. But eventually, the stress response system gets worn out, and when it gets worn out, you give up.

Most anxiety disorders in children—whether it’s a panic disorder, a separation anxiety disorder, or a generalized anxiety disorder—are transient, which means they go away. But in a sizeable proportion of kids with anxiety problems, they return; and again, the best predictor of later mental health problems is anxiety during childhood.

That’s why the experts say, “You’ve got to treat it.” If you’ve got an anxious kid, you’ve got to treat it, not only to alleviate his suffering, but because if you don’t treat it, it’s likely to get worse. If you can effectively treat their anxiety problems, you significantly decrease the likelihood that they’re going to develop depression, or addictive behaviors, or other kinds of mental health problems. So, treating anxiety is very important.
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Q: What kinds of treatments will help my daughter? 

Dr. Stixrud: One of the best-documented ways to address anxiety in children is to teach them to deeply relax themselves. I think that Transcendental Meditation becomes a very important tool, not only in the treatment of children with anxiety problems, but also in the prevention of anxiety disorders. This is because anxiety disorders basically reflect a fight-or-flight response that’s hyperactive. And we know from research that over time, the practice of Transcendental Meditation increasingly normalizes—or makes more efficient—that fight-or-flight response.
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Q: Isn’t some amount of stress good for us? 

Dr. Stixrud: It’s not that we want people to never be anxious. When there’s something threatening, you want to have some anxiety; you want to feel some stress, because that’s what makes you run away from a predator or a dangerous situation. Nature programs us to be able to deal with danger through the fight-or-flight response.

What we want is an optimal stress response, so that when we’re in a real emergency, we can deal with it. But then it goes away, and our stress hormones normalize and we don’t feel chronically anxious, or worried, or obsessive. Transcendental Meditation can potentially play an enormous role in inoculating kids against anxiety and the problems that grow out of chronic anxiety in childhood and adolescence.
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Q: My teenage son is not only anxious, but he gets depressed a lot. Is the Transcendental Meditation technique something that can help? 

Dr. Clark: Anxiety and depression are symptoms of stress. Children and adolescents often encounter stress at home and at school just as adults do in their jobs and relationships. Research studies have demonstrated that the TM technique not only reduces stress, it increases inner happiness, and results in improved flexibility, social ability, and self esteem. When children and adolescents learn the Transcendental Meditation program, they tend to find approval from within rather than needing it from the outside, which leads to greater independence and less influence from peer pressure.

Research shows that with the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, students improve significantly in academic performance and socialization skills. One striking example of a school where students practice the Transcendental Meditation technique is the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield, Iowa, where students have demonstrated high levels of success in academics, the arts, and athletics. Further Research
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Q: My son is bright but doesn’t seem to apply himself. Is the TM technique something that could help him do better? 

Dr. Clark: Sometimes bright students don’t apply themselves in school because they may be stressed, depressed, or bored. But when one learns the Transcendental Meditation technique and practices it regularly, those symptoms of stress, depression and boredom are reduced. And because there is more inner brightness, more inner joy, the ability to appreciate others and the environment is also enhanced. A truly bright student is not just intelligent—it’s not the intellect alone that allows a child to do well at school and become a fully developed student—a truly healthy and bright student is healthy, happy and socially adjusted as well.
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Q: My daughter is overweight and I’m concerned for her health. Can Transcendental Meditation help? 

Dr. Clark: Obesity is a major health concern in children and young people. Unfortunately, it has become an epidemic over the last 20 years, and it does have long-term consequences for health. Childhood obesity is related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

Obesity is related to both poor eating habits and lack of exercise. TM practitioners often report that they feel more in tune with their bodies once they start meditating. This is because the Transcendental Meditation technique provides deep rest and dissolves stress, and it’s the fatigue and stress that block the feedback messages to the body and mind. When children feel more alert and clear with regular mediation, they are more likely to choose healthier foods and activities.

Research studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique show increased energy and a more balanced physiology. With regular practice, those who felt lethargic tended to become more physically active. For these reasons, practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique may be the most important thing an overweight child can do for his or her health.
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