Most people are aware that yoga and meditation can be very useful techniques for fighting the kinds of stress and anxiety that adults are commonly exposed to. However, these kinds of mindfulness practices can also be very effective for younger practitioners. Kids can suffer from the same kinds of stress, although sources of that stress may be different than for their parents.
When children are taught about mindfulness, it can help a great deal in boosting their self-awareness and managing their moods. According to one parent who initiated a meditation program for children called Boston Buddha, bringing mindfulness into the elementary grades at school can have a huge impact on youngsters.
Boston father Andre Kelly practices mindfulness meditation each morning with his young son before school starts. “The magic moment where they understand mindfulness is when they can catch themselves not paying attention. That’s their chance to control their impulsivity. It helps them stop themselves from doing things like jumping on the couch, or whacking their younger brother.”
Why Introduce Meditation Into your Kids’ Lives?
There are a number of health benefits provided by mindfulness training, which is why advocates of the practice have been increasingly pushing to have it included in school curricula. Some of the same benefits which afforded to adult practitioners of mindfulness are also reaped by younger participants.
A study conducted at the University of California demonstrated that meditation can improve students’ ability to focus so that they can retain more information and score better on examinations. In the study, undergraduates participated in mindfulness training lasting for a period of two weeks. At the end of that time, the majority of participants scored significantly better than their counterparts on reading comprehension tests and on memory exercises.
Scientific research points up the fact that promoting greater awareness of the present moment decreases the level of cortisol, which is a known stress hormone, in the body. Mindfulness meditation has also been strongly linked to better quality of sleep, increased emotional stability, greater levels of compassion, and much better success at accomplishing weight loss objectives.
Granted, some of the above are probably more applicable to adult meditation students, but they can still apply to children. Some of the skills that children specifically can learn though, can prove very valuable at a young age, and can be maintained throughout a lifetime.
One of those skills is self-regulation. When kids learn how to get in tune with their bodies and their emotional reactions to various situations, they can then also learn how to manage themselves better in those situations. Knowing how to control one’s emotions during situations of distress can breed greater self-confidence, greater self-control, and a more positive outlook on life in general.
Similar to the California study of undergraduates above, studies have been performed in California middle schools seeking to further investigate a correlation between meditation and increased student performance on tests.
Three of those studies showed the following results:
· A Midwest elementary school conducted an 8-week mindfulness program with 3rd grade students, after which teachers reported less inattentiveness, less hyperactivity, and fewer symptoms of ADHD
· San Francisco schools offering meditation programs reported satisfactory English scores on the standardized California Achievement Test at a rate twice that of non-meditation schools
· A California middle school providing daily meditation programs to their youngsters, saw an increase in grade point averages for most participants in the program
In what may be one of the most important impacts of meditation and mindfulness on youngsters, it has been found that mindfulness meditation effectively counteracts the harmful effects of being glued to mobile devices and game systems. Many of today’s children spend as many as six to eight hours per day playing video games or using electronic devices. Video games often promote lightning reactions, intense concentration, jittery behavior, and edge-of-your-seat involvement, and it becomes important to undo all that gameplay stress with the calming effect of meditation. Plus, the peaceful and thoughtful break from video games which meditation brings may awaken a change of heart on these devices as your child becomes better and better at meditation.
Where to find information on Meditation for Kids
No one should be worried about being unable to find a place where your children can learn about the practice of mindful meditation, and put that learning into practice. There are centers springing up all around the country where children can join peers of their own age group in learning the basics, and having supportive fellow practitioners.
While it is hard to know exactly how many schools have started using yoga and meditation in recent years, there is a growing movement to generate Mindfulness in Schools which is being championed by non-profit organizations in the USA.
Teachers are stepping forward to become trained in how to administer the program in their schools, so that programs can be conducted with trained guides.
In some schools, meditation has served as an addition to Physical Education programs at various grade levels, and in others it has served as a replacement for Detention Programs. Rather than punish students for inappropriate behaviors on school grounds which might ordinarily warrant detention time in a quiet classroom, offenders are required to practice mindfulness, so as to help them gain greater self-awareness.
Some public television programming has also started up, with the announced intention of exposing youngsters to mindful meditation, and giving them sufficient instruction to pique their interest and get them started with yoga. This allows children to learn techniques in the privacy of their own homes, where they won’t feel embarrassed about doing things wrong, or about what peers might think of them. Mindfulness meditation techniques learned at any of the other facilities, e.g. school, yoga centers, youth organizations, etc. can also be brought home and practiced for additional experience.
There are also a good number of nonprofit and for-profit centers offering their services at local facilities in many towns and cities around the country. These centers generally offer special classes tailored for specific age groups, and are led by qualified instructors who have experience with each of those age groups. Some of these operate entirely on donations from grateful students of the program, because they are so committed to bringing mindful meditation to as many young people as possible.
How to get Your Kids to Meditate
It’s not as difficult as you might think to get your kids involved with mindful meditation. In fact, there’s a powerful built-in mechanism which might aid the process. Children are naturally prone to imitate the behaviors of their parents, at least as far as they are able, so assuming a quiet pose and directing oneself inward can act as a great source of imitation to a youngster. As long as you haven’t historically discouraged all copying of your movements in the past, your kids just might already be pre-disposed to imitate your meditative techniques.
Another idea you might try in order to encourage mindfulness is to initiate a ‘silent’ hour at your home, where participants are prohibited from making any kind of noise for the duration of the exercise. You might even make a game of it, by seeing who can be the quietest, and who can keep their eyes closed longest while concentrating on the moment.
An important principle to remember when trying to encourage youngsters to meditate is to keep it short and simple at first, so they don’t get discouraged by the difficulty of it, and it doesn’t start to seem like a chore. Experts recommend that for each year of a child’s age, there should be one more minute of meditation, so that for example, a 5-year old child should be comfortable with 5 consecutive minutes of mindfulness.
Breathing exercises can not only be very calming and beneficial for youngsters, but they can actually be fun too. There are many different breathing techniques you might try with your kids, and they can bring a calmness as well as having fun while doing them.
Visualization can be a great bedtime experience for youngsters, as they focus on a specific part of their bodies for a period of time, all the while remaining perfectly motionless. This is an exercise which encourages self-awareness and can be a fun thing to do, if they add in any of their own creative ideas while visualizing.
Focus exercises are easy to arrange, and can provide great training for concentration. All you have to do is find any object which all participants can focus on for a few minutes, and while remaining still, exert all mindfulness on that single object – its nature, its movement, its physical characteristics, etc.
For young children just becoming acquainted with the techniques of mindfulness, it can be helpful to combine meditation with something they already enjoy, such as having stories read to them. One of the most popular children’s books of this type is The Peaceful Piggy Meditation, in which the piggies meditate and achieve their own kind of inner peacefulness and calm.
You may also consider incorporating some technology to aid your child start and keep a meditation practice. There are many options to choose from. For example, Headspace has a tailored program to teach meditation for kids, using fun and engaging activities that teach children the basics of mindfulness. You can also consider incorporating Spire into the life of an older child that struggles with nervousness or anxiety. Spire will monitor the breathing of your child and send them signals when their body is displaying signs of stress, helping your child calm down when they need it the most. It will also help them become more self-aware of the situations which causes their body stress, which can help them manage their social lives in a healthier way.
There are far more ways than those listed above to help get your kids started with mindful meditation, and there are many experts who will be very glad to lend their expertise and advice to help you get started. The benefits that your children will reap from regular practice of mindful meditation are so worthwhile, and possibly very useful to their futures, that you should definitely make the effort to get them started. It will be good for you as a parent when your children are calmer and more self-aware, and it will be great for your children as they acquire valuable life skills that will help them on into adulthood. It might even give you a bit more time for meditation as well.