People often think that meditation is impossible for children – that somehow, children are ruled by action instead of stillness. In fact, many children find meditation fairly simple. They may not be sitting for long periods of time, but even several minutes in focused silence is possible.
Children who mediate have been shown to have:
- Better attention span
- Healthier sleep habits
- Ability to recognize emotions
- Improved relationships with peers and parents
- Development of emotional intelligence
Children who spend time in meditative silence are also better able to handle conflict. In a school setting where there is a lot of noise and distraction, many children act out towards their peers by hitting, biting or shoving. Meditation will not only help children to recognize their anger (and manage it more effectively,) but will help them to realize when they need to step back from a situation and take a personal “time out.”
The goal of meditation is not to still the mind (although that benefit may come with practice,) but to recognize and accept what is happening in the moment. When introducing this concept to children, it’s better to start off with very short and simple activities.
Having a focus
In the beginning, your child may only be able to do one minute of meditation. Choose a focal point for them, such as a picture or shiny rock, and have them stare at the object for one minute. Chat with them about what thoughts came into their heads (for example, were they thinking about the object and its colour, shape or texture?)
The breath is also a wonderful focus, and children can practice feeling the rise and fall of their belly while lying on a mat on the floor.
Some children respond very well to visualization practices – having them imagine that they are flying, or visiting a safe spot (e.g. their favourite tree) is an amazing way to get them focused for longer periods of time.
Of course children adore chants – especially OM! They can practice with different pitches in their voice, and also see what it feels like to end the OM and sit in silence for one minute.
Another tip when introducing children to meditation is to lead by example. If your child finds you sitting on a meditation cushion, or listening to a chant, they will most likely ask to participate with you.
All children are different, and some will have greater focus than others. It’s possible a child who is four will be able to sit in silence for several minutes, while a child of eight can only manage one minute. Start slow, and build on the length of time. Don’t be disappointed if a child rejects meditation at first – remind them to come back to the activity at hand, and then do it over and over again. Repetition is a wonderful teacher!
Finally, remember to manage the child’s environment and create a safe and calm space. Dim the lights, play meditative music, and offer a blanket for comfort. Before you know it, your child will be requesting “meditation time” as one of their favourite activities!