Here at Beingwell, we are all about equipping you and your families with the tools to help you live a little better each day. So we understand the importance of delivering tips and advice to take home to the kids! You’ve probably noticed how much traction meditation has gathered in adults, with numerous benefits to our wellbeing including stress reduction, and increased positive attitudes. But what about our children? Could they reap the benefits too and wouldn’t it be lovely to have 10 minutes of guaranteed peace and quiet for you?! Keep reading to find out if it’s possible.
The basics of mindfulness and meditation refer to being present, paying attention to the moment, as thoughts and feelings cross our minds, without tying judgement to it.
Sitting quietly might get our brains thinking, about everything we’ve ever done, and usually, it’s a highlight reel of our most embarrassing moments - or the things that keep us up at night. While we do this, we often subconsciously tie judgement to these - like how awful it was that time you went to meet friends in a busy coffee shop, and walked right up to the wrong table. Now, this is only really ‘so awful’ because we’ve told ourselves it is, we’ve made a judgement on it.
But it’s quite normal to do this, which is why learning to meditate can be tricky to master. However, when we manage to practice we gradually build our ability to simply sit with these thoughts and view them as just that. Thoughts. Not embarrassing moments, awful memories or even positive vibes. It is without the judgements we make, that we can reap the benefits of meditation.
So you might well now be thinking, if it’s hard for us adults, what chance does my child or children have? Well, it’ll be individual for each of them of course, but even those active or more spicy-natured children of ours could give it a good go with some adaption, practice and patience (likely from both of you).
Can children really learn to meditate?
After a long day or week at school, where our kids our learning, growing, socialising, and developing, not to mention running about at break time, our kids’ brains can get tired. So they could really benefit from opportunities to take a break from the day, or switch off so they can relax and refocus - just as we could as adults. Meditation, for adults and children alike, can offer this to us in a practical and effective way. While the whole family can benefit, it can be a bumpy road to embark on - especially for younger minds that wander more easily.
However, research shows that children have reportedly high-stress levels. We’ve all had a lot going on for the past few years, adapting through a pandemic, routine changes, lockdowns, health anxiety, school closures and parents working from home, and since re-adapting to a post-pandemic era (that hasn’t exactly felt smooth for many of us). It’s quite understandable that our kids could do with a few more chances to take their minds off things and relax - as could we.
The traditional act of meditation might have you picturing someone sitting quietly, eyes closed, still… which you might be not sure is possible for the kids, or at least not for any length of time. But there are meditation practices that apply the same principles but look quite different, that could be, in the words of Goldilocks, “just right”.
Movement meditation practices, like yoga, tai chi or simply mindful walking, could be just right for more active or easily distracted children. You might find a yoga tutorial online for the kids to follow along, or sign up for a class to practice with others. A really simple movement-based meditation practice is a walking meditation, just head out for a walk to give it a go. Get everyone to focus on their breathing and footsteps to encourage everyone to be present, and notice the sensations in the body as you walk. And don’t worry if you get distracted, gently remind everyone to focus on breathing and stepping again.
Grounding exercises (including counting, deep breathing, or naming items) or focused meditation (including concentrating on a word, thought, or sensation) might be practical too. We can act as a guide for our children bringing their attention back to the object of focus when their mind wanders. It could be a useful technique for children who are visual learners, that like to see pictures or watch instructions for a task.
Mindfulness or guided meditations might be helpful at bedtime or to build part of their wind down routine. These practices often include following a story or spoken instructions, which we could read ourselves or find online (or keep reading). Guided stories can be helpful for keeping a child’s mind focused on the present moment without having to remind them too much, and can help them in building the practice of meditation up.
And we can incorporate mindfulness into our day-to-day activities, especially helpful when a rigid or structured practice isn’t quite working out. You might try being mindful while they brush their teeth, or eat a snack or meal. You could try out mindful drawing, gardening or sensory time too. Mindfulness with kids can look like simply noticing sensations in the body while doing something - planting a seed and noticing how the pot, the soil, the seed feel, how it changes when you add water. It's not all about focus, silence and breathing.
While we might not see results overnight, or wake up to mini-meditators anytime soon, there are plenty of options for children to find the right way to meditate for them. Your practices might need some topping up in your own time, but practising together gives us the opportunity to show our kids how to be present, calm and develop emotional security while connecting with them too.
The timing and frequency of your practice will make a difference in their ability to engage. It’s generally recommended that preschool children give it a go for only a few minutes a day if you’re trying it out, primary-aged children for 3-10 minutes up to twice a day, and secondary school up could be anywhere from 5-45 minutes a day (or more if preferred).
Extra tips for guiding a meditation practice for your kids
Meditation doesn’t have to have or be a set of instructions to follow for it to be successful, but we do have some handy tips that might make it feel a bit easier to try out:
Try incorporating deep breathing into their routine, as a standard practice. Not only will this help them develop their meditation skills, but also to regulate their emotions and come back to the present moment, whether they’ve been going a bit wild or feeling some tension.
Explore different types as you start, and find the ones your kids enjoy or find most engaging. This will help them continue their practice, as well as make it seem less like a chore or something boring.
Use guided meditation stories at bedtime or as part of their wind-down routines to help them feel calm, relaxed and able to drift off quite easily - then you can get around to a meditation practice of your own!
Reality reminder: If it’s not working, don’t force it. It can be frustrating when something that’s supposed to be really helpful for our wellbeing just isn’t working for us - like trying to eat less processed foods or building your workout routines. Give it a few goes before deciding if it’s not for you, but ultimately if it’s ending up in everyone feeling more stressed, emotional or worked up don’t keep forcing it. Meditation is about focusing on the present without making judgements - which tears, tantrums and chaos don’t exactly provide the ambience for.
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