Introducing Meditation to Children
Photographed by Maria Del Rio
Childhood conjures up images of carefree innocence, but ever look at your kid and see signs of stress and anxiety? Children today are dealing with demands and levels of stimulation that were unthinkable when we were young—the constant presence of technology, pressures from social media, and active shooter drills in schools, to name a few. Of course, you want to help your child handle it all, and you’ve probably heard something about the powerful benefits of yoga or meditation and other contemplative practices in this regard. And you’d be right, studies show how these practices can drastically help with everything from school performance to self-esteem and even ADHD. But how do you turn your overstimulated child on to the idea of sitting still and doing nothing? Turns out kids naturally take to meditation even better than adults, and below are five steps for getting your little one on the path to peace.
The first thing you can do to encourage your child to meditate is to mediate yourself. I won’t even teach children to meditate if their parents haven’t learned first. Kids learn best by example, and seeing you firsthand sit once or twice a day and observing how your practice changes your behavior will have a powerful influence on them. They might even become guardians of your practice, reminding you it’s time to meditate when you start getting a little grumpy. By watching you, they will naturally become curious, and you can better gauge when they’re ready to start their own practice as they will often ask to learn themselves.
Start with Mindfulness and Breath-Work
For some kids, starting with mindfulness or breath-work exercises are good ways to transition to a meditation practice. An example of a mindfulness exercise I use with my daughters is turning on their “superhero senses.” To do this one, ask your kids to go through each of their five senses and find the subtlest aspect of that sense. For example, for touch, maybe it’s the air on their skin. Or for sound, maybe they can hear a dog barking a block away. A breath-work exercise I do with my girls as a way to get them to settle down before going to bed is something we call, “soup time.” I have them hold up their hands like they have a bowl of soup in front of them. They then sip in air like they’re sipping the soup. Next, they blow slowly on the soup to cool it down. After doing this a few times, they say “mmmm” as long as they can.
Find an Instructor
Learning to meditate from an actual person will have a far greater impact on your kids than trying to teach them yourself or from an app. There are numerous guided meditations on the internet for kids, which are great to try, but these are contemplative styles and do not have the same level of benefits as a seated, silent practice. If you think your child is ready to start silently meditating daily, you can choose from one of the concentration styles, which have you focusing on something, like focusing on the breath and coming back to it whenever you notice a thought. An example of this style would be Zen Meditation. Or you can choose an effortless practice, which uses a mantra that works on the level of vibration to bring your mind deeper and deeper until it goes beyond thought. Examples of this would be Vedic Meditation (what I teach) or Transcendental Meditation.
Adapt the Meditation Practice for the Age of the Child
If you decide you’d like your child to learn a seated practice like Vedic Meditation, for example, don’t worry, there’s no expectation for them to start meditating silently for twenty minutes twice a day like an adult. I encourage young kids starting at five years old to meditate up to the number of minutes of their age. My oldest daughter has a set of little hour glasses each a minute apart, and when she has a birthday, she gets to take out the next hourglass. Some kids that suffer from anxiety need more grounding. For them, having something tactile to hold can be helpful, like a string of beads to move from one to the next with each repetition of their mantra. Young children don’t even need to keep their eyes closed. My youngest daughter likes to use a glitter jar as she meditates. To make a glitter jar for your child, combine glue (I like Elmer’s Washable Clear Glue), hot water, food coloring or liquid water color, and glitter in a bowl, mix with a whisk, and then transfer to a mason jar or other glass container. The proportions should be about 20% glue, 80% water and coloring, and as much glitter as desired.
Be Encouraging but Don’t Pressure Them
It’s hard to not want to force our kids to meditate when we know how much it can help them. But this is a long game, and we don’t want to pressure them into it and then turn them off to the idea for good. For my kids, I let them self-determine their practice. They don’t do it every day, but they do come back to it on their own. Often, I will be meditating myself and will feel one of them sit next to me and we meditate together for a little while. In the hectic storm of activity that is our modern family life, I treasure these moments of shared, quiet being.
Author Kristen Vandivier is the founder of The Vedic Method. You can read more of her work via her Mom Talk essay on leaving her children for three months to go on a spiritual journey.
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Very well written and thoughtful article that will be helpful to many.