In the same way meditation for adults has seen an explosion in the West over the last 30 years, educators and psychologists are now sending a clear message: meditation for kids is a powerful life skill. And when children learn mindfulness at a young age, we can plant seeds that grow and bear fruit throughout their whole life.
There are so many styles of meditation it can sometimes be confusing. But meditation for kids can be put into two basic categories: mindfulness and imagination.
The definition of mindfulness I like to use teaching kids is this: paying attention to the present moment, right now, with kindness and curiosity. I explain all the terms in ways they can easily understand: “paying attention,” “right now” and, most importantly, “with kindness and curiosity.” There’s a lot in that simple definition for kids to understand and to practice.
Meditation for kids is a powerful life tool shutterstock/vectorfusionart
There are many mindfulness-based practices for kids, many of which use the senses and the breath, to help them explore this definition of mindfulness.
And imagination-based meditations use kids’ amazing power of imagination to take journeys into their body, to relaxing places or to experience different qualities like the strength and safety of the Earth. I’ll take you through an imagination exercise on grounding in the earth later in this article. Kids are very good – usually much better than adults – at really feeling what they imagine, taking in those qualities and making them their own.
Ideally, schools are places where kids learn a lot about life: about different subjects from math to art; about achievement and evaluation; about friendship, peer pressure and conflict – and much more.
And it’s not news that these things can be stressful for people of any age. It’s sobering to know that more kids than ever are experiencing anxiety and depression. According to the CDC, in the USA, 7 per cent of children aged between three and 17 have diagnosed anxiety (approximately 4.4 million kids), and just over 3 per cent in the same age range (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression. Research shows that at younger and younger ages, children are feeling the pressure to excel at school or to be accepted by schoolmates.
So, schools are an ideal place to introduce meditation for kids. They can learn how meditation can help them cope with life challenges. There are two key reasons that meditation has become a favourite tool to build these kinds of skills.
“Meditation for kids is a powerful life skill. And when children learn mindfulness at a young age, we can plant seeds that grow and bear fruit throughout their whole life.”
Firstly, because over the past few decades researchers have become very interested in studying meditation in general and for kids in particular. We have many studies now that show the proven psychological, emotional and physical benefits of meditation.
There's one school in the US – Patterson High School in Baltimore – that is successfully using meditation as a “time out” activity for kids if they're acting out. Called the Mindful Moment Program, this innovative idea gives kids the skills to be with themselves and calm down through meditation and yoga – and with great results. Since launching the program, suspensions for fighting have dropped, and both attendance figures and the average GPA of first time ninth graders has increased.
Secondly, meditation for kids has become so valued because of the wide and varied range of those benefits. Here are just some of the strengths and skills kids can build when they practice simple, non-religious meditation practices. They have been shown to:
Remember the definition of mindfulness earlier in this article? The part about kindness and curiosity? Observing yourself, and others, with kindness (rather than criticism or judgement) builds a caring relationship with yourself and empathy for others.
Many meditation for kids exercises involve paying attention to something in particular and learning what to do when your mind wanders from your task.
Meditation exercises that show kids how to connect with their bodies, breath and senses calm their nervous system. They learn how to trigger this physiological healing and, again, to treat themselves with kindness while they practice and sometimes experience difficult emotions.
When kids are more calm and focused, and practicing self-care, they’re better able to make good choices.
Meditation activates and integrates many areas of the brain. Creativity is powered up!
There are meditation exercises specifically for handling tough emotions, like sadness or anger or frustration. Kids can learn powerful ways have their emotions, rather than their emotions having them.
Whether or not your child’s school has meditation or mindfulness programs, you can teach them meditation at home. And one of the great things is that you will also benefit from the practice. Indeed, it’s a great way to learn together, share experiences and strengthen your relationship with your children.
“Schools are an ideal place to introduce meditation for kids. They can learn how meditation can help them cope with life challenges.”
So, what do meditation practices for kids look like? Here are a few simple ones you can try – two mindfulness based and one imagination-based. Try them yourself a few times before you teach them. Keep the practices short – about one minute per year of age: five minute exercises with five year olds, and so on.
And keep these things in mind for all the exercises:
Paying attention to the breath is a great way to soothe the nervous system and bring some calm.
Practising meditation at home is a great way to connect with your kids shutterstock/fizkes
This is an example of a meditation exercise that uses kids’ sense of sound. Sensory-based practices are a great way for them to become present and calm.
In this exercise, kids imagine being connected to the whole planet earth, and all the strength and safety that brings. This exercise is done best in a sitting position, on the floor or on a chair.
We’re living in a wonderful time for meditation for kids. There are many programs and resources online and maybe even in your community that offer ways to bring meditation into your lives. I’ve given you a few links to explore at the bottom of this article. Plant the seeds of meditation for your child and watch them take root. ●
Main image: shutterstock/wavebreakmedia
Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses and on their journey of self-discovery.
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