Yoga and meditation are useful techniques for dealing with the stress and anxiety to which adults are commonly exposed. But adults are not the only ones suffering from stress and anxiety. Kids can suffer from the same kinds of emotional and mental strain, although sources of that stress may be different. Mindfulness practices can be very helpful for these younger practitioners. In addition to relaxation, teaching children mindfulness can help in boosting their self-awareness and managing their moods.
Boston father Andre Kelly practices mindfulness meditation each morning with his son before school starts. He tells the Huffington Post, “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.”
Read on to learn more about meditation for kids and how you can introduce mindfulness to the children in your life.
WHY TEACH kids MEDITATION
Many of same benefits adult practitioners gain from mindfulness are also gained by younger participants.
A study conducted at the University of California demonstrated that meditation can improve students’ ability to focus. In the study, undergraduates participated in mindfulness training lasting for a period of two weeks. At the end of the training, the majority of participants scored significantly better than their counterparts on reading comprehension tests and on memory exercises. They were able to retain more information and score better on examinations.
Other 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 eight-week mindfulness program with third grade students, after which teachers reported less inattentiveness, less hyperactivity and fewer symptoms of ADHD
- San Francisco schools offering meditation programs reported twice the rate of satisfactory English scores on the standardized California Achievement Tests than non-meditating schools
- A California middle school providing daily meditation programs saw an increase in grade point averages for most participants in the program
Researchers in these studies also noted that mindfulness meditation counteracted the harmful effects of being glued to screens and video games. Video games often promote short attention spans and jittery behavior, which the calming effects of meditation can help.
Mindfulness meditation has also been linked to better quality of sleep, increased emotional stability and more success at accomplishing weight loss objectives. Not all of the benefits will apply to children, but mindfulness meditation increases core skills such as self-regulation.
Meditation can help kids learn how to gain control over their emotional reactions to various 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.
LEARNING TO TEACH MEDITATION for KIDS
There is a growing movement called Mindfulness in Schools, which is being championed by non-profit organizations in the U.S. Teachers are stepping forward to become trained in how to administer the program in their schools and many are implementing it in their classrooms. In some schools, meditation has served as an addition to physical education programs or as a replacement for detention. A good first step might be to suggest that your child’s school implement the program if it hasn’t already.
Public television programming is also available, which provides kids with instructions and encouragement on starting yoga. This allows children to learn techniques at home, where they may feel more comfortable.
There are also many nonprofit and for-profit centers offering meditation teaching services at local facilities across the country. These centers often offer special classes tailored for specific age groups, including kids, and are led by qualified instructors. Some of these operate entirely on donations and are driven by the commitment to bringing mindful meditation to as many people as possible. These are generally friendly and positive spaces where children can go learn meditation.
HOW TO GET YOUR KIDS TO MEDITATE
Children are naturally prone to imitate the behaviors of their parents. Taking up meditation yourself is a great way to encourage your kids to do so.
Another idea to encourage mindfulness in children is to initiate a silent period at your home, where participants are prohibited from making any kind of noise for the duration of that period. You might even make a game of it: Whoever can be the quietest and keep their eyes closed longest wins.
Keep it short and simple at first. Children may find an hour of silence too difficult and get discouraged. They might view the exercise as a chore. Experts recommend that for each year of a child’s age, there should be one more minute of meditation. For example, a 5-year-old child should be comfortable with five consecutive minutes of mindfulness.
Breathing exercises done during meditation can fun, too. There are many different breathing techniques you might try with your kids, like alternate nostril breathing, which may seem silly and fun in a child’s mind.
Visualization meditation can be a great bedtime experience for youngsters, who can exercise their own creative ideas while visualizing.
Children just becoming acquainted with mindfulness will benefit from combining meditation with something they already enjoy, such as stories. A popular children’s book which combine the two is called “The Peaceful Piggy Meditation.” It’s a children’s story in which the piggies meditate and achieve their own kind of inner peacefulness and calm. Kids are thrilled to follow along.
You may also consider incorporating technology to help your child start and keep a meditation practice. For example, Headspace has a tailored program to teach meditation to 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 monitors the breathing of your child and sends 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 cause their body stress, which can help them manage their social lives in a healthier way.
The benefits that your children will reap from a regular mindfulness meditation practice are for today and for their futures. It is a valuable life skill that will help your children all the way into adulthood. You’ll also see benefits as a parent as your children become calmer and more self-aware. In fact, you might find that you’ve got a bit more time for meditation as well.