You have probably heard of the benefits of routine meditation practices. Studies have linked meditation to decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life. Studies have even found that people who practiced meditation regularly had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making. A parent asked me how young you can start meditation with children. I don’t know, though there are studies on kids as young as second grade, and my guess is there is no reason not to start sooner—as long as it is does not become one more thing parents feel they should do with their kids. With one in five children saying they worry “a lot or a great deal” about their lives, meditation may be one way for them to calm their monkey brain.
The question is how to teach very young children to meditate. I would start by saying it is a process!
An important aspect of meditation is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is really about paying attention to the moment by opening one’s senses fully. Ask children to sit and close their eyes. What do they hear? smell? What textures are they aware of? Can they feel their bones on the ground? Can they feel the movement of their body as they breath in and out? Can they hear their heart beating? Can they slow their breath but breathing in? Over time have kids extend the number of seconds it takes to breath in, pause, and then breath out, pause, breathe in, pause, breath out, pause.
Get kids to become aware of when and where they are tense.
The next approach might be teaching them to tense and relax different parts of their body. (In a classroom, this can be done sitting at their desks). This helps them learn to focus and it helps them feel the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Work from the toes up to the head. Ask children to curl their toes as hard as they can and then relax, flex their feet as hard as they can and then relax, tighten their straight legs as hard as they can by pulling them together. Continue to work in this way up through the top of their head. Then work back down to their toes. Then ask them to take a deep breath in and out and as they let the air out to let their whole body relax.
Kids are naturals at guided meditations as they already live in their imaginations.
As a third step, have kids do a guided meditation. I have introduced kids to this as an eyes open exercise. I have allowed them to draw or color as I imagine them walking through nature. With a recording of sounds of nature playing in the background, I guide them down a woodland path to a glen with wild flowers and birds and a still pond with water bugs making the only movement on the water. As I describe it, they draw whatever they are inspired to draw.
With kids at home, choose a time when your kids are sleepy and you can go straight to going to eyes closed on the floor or even in bed and just have them imagine the journey. If you have the space in the classroom for your kids to lie on the floor, then work towards having them do the guided meditation not drawing but just with their eyes closed. Start with short ones and then as they learn to settle into it, you can make them longer. (A guided meditation can be an excellent introduction to a writing exercise. You might ask them, for example, to describe what they see in the glen when they get there. Or if there is a river in the guided meditation, ask them what they find further down the river.
If none of these techniques work, don't worry. Modeling meditation through developing your own daily practice might work. Or you might just wait six months and try then.
A combination of these ideas keeps things fresh for kids while at the same time helping them get the benefits we associate with meditation. Again, take it slow! Keep it light and playful. You might scoff at the idea of a first grader worried because she has not been able to meditate right, but I have stood in line at the grocery store as one mother complained to another about her own meditation and watched the expression on her little girl's face. To me it seemed to say, "Oh no. One more thing for me to worry about!" So, have fun with it. If it helps your family--or one particular child--great! If not, LET IT GO!! Playing outside on the grass or climbing a tree will also go far to restoring kids' equilibrium.
In the way that sometimes happens, I finish writing a blog and then I find another someone else who had covered the same material but even better! You might enjoy this INFOGRAPHIC.