While many adults already benefit from meditation, kids can gain a lot from the practice as well. Growing up in the age of information overload is hard enough. When you combine that with long school days and multiple extracurricular activities, your kids can suffer from stressful feelings just like an adult.
Meditation is a great tool to combat stress and the disruptive behaviors it can produce. Think about all the ways meditation helps us learn to breathe through difficulties, manage our emotions, and take a more compassionate view of ourselves and others. Now imagine having that tool kit with you throughout childhood and adolescence. Follow these best practices for introducing meditation to your kids as a tool they can use to navigate the twists and turns of life.
Meditation can produce similar benefits in both adults and children — although fewer studies specifically examine its impact on kids. One study of nearly 600 fifth- to eighth-grade students found the introduction of a mindfulness-based meditative practice into the classroom reduced rates of student stress, depression, and negative coping. Another study showed meditation within schools drastically reduced rates of suspension and increased academic performance.
A roundup of research on meditation and children concluded that teaching children to meditate helps them pay attention better as well as relate to and respect other students more. It also helped counteract the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Despite the scientifically documented behavioral benefits provided by meditation, only 1.6 percent of U.S. children practice meditation.
You don’t need to wait for your child’s school to start integrating meditation into the curriculum. Instead, you can introduce them to meditation at an early age. Not only will it help improve their self-awareness and emotional well-being, but it also provides a great bonding activity with you.
While the thought of your antsy little ones staying still — and liking it — may seem unlikely, these best practices can help you successfully introduce meditation to your children.
- Tailor the Meditation to Your Child’s Age. According to healthychildren.org, pediatricians suggest preschoolers do best with just a few minutes per day,elementary school children can handle sessions of three to 10 minutes twice a day, and teens can take charge of their own meditative practice for as long or as little as they like. At different ages, you’ll have more success with different meditation activities as well.
- Practice With Them. Make your instruction more effective by sitting with your child and modeling the behavior you want to teach. They will instinctively look to you when they have questions. Demonstrate the breathing exercises. Talk them through a guided meditation. Strengthen your own practice as you help them create theirs by showing them that mommy (or daddy) can meditate as well.
- Start With the Breath. The breath is our built-in centering device. It’s a tool we can use to help refocus our attention from external sources back into ourselves. By teaching your children breathing practices — such as simply placing a hand on their belly to feel how a breath moves through the body — you can help them learn to focus on their own mind and body. If they struggle to pay attention to their breath, check out this video about giving your kids a “breathing buddy” to help them concentrate.
- Use Everyday Situations as Mindfulness Learning Opportunities. Introducing your kids to meditation doesn’t have to happen only when you sit on the meditation cushions. Everyday life offers plenty of opportunities to teach mindfulness to your little ones. For example, take them on “mindfulness walks” in which you try to notice everything about your environment together. Pause to listen to the sounds around you like birds singing, cars passing, or children playing. Encourage your child to observe everything around them.
- Incorporate Your Child’s Interests Into the Meditations. The best way to excite your kids about learning meditation is by using their interests to encourage them to participate. If you’re unsure how to do this, you can find plenty of resources to help. Is your kid into superheroes? If yes, here’s a great Spider-man script you can read to them to activate their “spidey” senses.
- Read Meditation Picture Books. Reading is another great way to teach your kids about mindfulness. You can now find a wide range of creative picture books specifically designed to teach children about mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and yoga. Choose mindfulness books for bedtime stories to prompt discussions on mindfulness topics that relate to your child’s interests and imagination. If you’re unsure where to start, check out this list.
- Try Movement-Based Meditations for Fidgety Kids. Struggling to get your kids to sit still? Instead of fighting your child’s nature, work with it by trying movement-based meditative practices. This could include yoga, qigong, or Sufi-style practices. Stillness meditations don’t work for everyone, and your child’s body is just as important as their mind. You may have more success with your child by incorporating movement into a holistic meditative practice.
If you need some help getting started, check out these kid-friendly meditation exercises from The Chopra Center. Designed to help you relate to your little ones on their level, these exercises also make meditative concepts more accessible for them.
For kids currently in their “phone phase,” ask them to spend some time each day completing activities from one of the many meditation and mindfulness mobile apps. Most of the more popular apps include a section designed specifically for kids.