Is Meditation for Kids?

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You’ve seen the kid-friendly icons while scrolling for your own bedtime meditation: cheerfully designed graphics of sleepy clouds and relaxed cartoon sheep advertising meditations for children. Is what’s good for a mindfulness-practicing mother goose as beneficial for her gosling?

"The short answer is, 'Yes!'" said Cory Cochiolo, author of Bedtime Meditations for Kids: Quick, Calming Exercises to Help Kids Get to Sleep.

A growing body of research on meditation and mindfulness practices for children, including kid-friendly yoga, shows benefits that may sound familiar to adult practitioners. Meditation for kids can reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and self-esteem, and encourage a sense of calm, relaxation, self-awareness, and empathy.

Skeptics note that the research can be confusing. It’s scant, for starters, and not all studies are created equal; some are too small or have other methodological shortcomings. What is known is promising—especially for the neediest kids in the most disadvantaged situations. At worst, meditation and mindfulness practice for kids is “harmless,” but it will take some work.

Unlike piano lessons, experts say, meditation and mindfulness for children can’t be outsourced. Luckily, you’d probably rather adopt some family-friendly mindfulness practices than revisit “Chopsticks.” This is doubly true if you’ve seen the benefits of meditation in your own life and are eager to share meditation as a tool with your children.

Chances are, your kids are already engaged in activities that proponents would call “mindfulness-based.” Coloring? That could be mindful. Blowing bubbles? Yep, that too. Any activity that keeps you and your child engaged in the present moment can be a mindfulness practice.

“When I think about mindfulness for children, I think of family culture,” Sumi Loundon Kim, a Buddhist chaplain at Duke University, told the New York Times. “The emphasis needs to be on the parents.”

“We’re not even aware how many times we’re checking our phone, how many times we’re at our computer with our backs turned.”

So think of this as a togetherness project, and keep it loose. As with all things parenting-related, flexibility and creativity go a long way. Cleaving to a rigid idea of meditation as only sitting in absolute stillness and silence isn’t effective—or even age appropriate. Instead, see mindfulness as an approach that can flow through your house and activities throughout the day. Here are some ways to get started.

Welcome the Sun

Why not make family Sun Salutations a Sunday morning tradition? Yoga for kids is an effective way of sharing a quality of attention that links breath and movement—while also incorporating stories and play.

Encourage them to be creative with it and make it their own. ”Have fun making some noise. The body loves to make noise!” says Yoga Anytime teacher Betsy Stix. "Remember, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it matters how it feels. Maybe you want to move slower, maybe you want to move faster; listen.”

“Spidey-Senses”

Spiderman taps into his super senses—kids can, too, suggests psychologist Karen Young. Prompt kids to pause and tune into what they see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. This practice encourages observation and curiosity—great for standing in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic. Doing so focuses their attention on the present moment and opens their awareness to sensory information.

The S-S-S Model

Bring mindfulness to mealtimes and snacks with a model advocated by clinical psychologist and mindful eating expert, Susan Albers. In our family, you might say, we: SIT down, SLOW down, and SAVOR our food. This is time together to pause and be present with one another, and the S-S-S model drives that point home. Double up on mindfulness and have kids use their “Spidey-Senses” at the table when it’s time to savor. Look closely at their plate. What colors are on it? Does that strawberry make a sound? Does the cereal? Mindfulness isn’t only about mitigating stress; it can also be about cultivating a sense of wonder and delight.

The Breathing Buddy

This exercise from Kaia Roman, author of The Joy Plan, is clever—it gets kids to focus on their breath while making it seem like they’re hanging out with their lovey. Here’s how it works: Your child lies down with a beloved stuffed animal on their belly. As they breathe, they watch as their buddy rises and descends along with each inhale and exhale. Can they make their buddy move higher? What about slower?

Skin-on-Skin

Baby massage has been shown to enhance sleep and relieve colic—it may also benefit a wee one’s immune system, motor skills, and cognitive development. But who says massage is only for the under six-month set? Massage is a great way to mindfully bond with your kids, as well as help them relax.

The Mindful Jar

Mindfulness helps us tolerate any sensation, including uncomfortable ones. This practice from Karen Young helps children visualize emotions like anger or frustration.

Fill a jar with water and add a scoop of glitter. With the lid screwed on tightly, shake the jar to make the glitter swirl. Explain what’s going on to your child. The glitter is like our thoughts when we’re upset; they whirl around and make it hard to see clearly. When we put the jar down and let it be still, the glitter begins to settle and the water clears. Our minds work the same way, and taking a minute to be still and take deep breaths can help us feel settled when we feel overwhelmed by emotions.

Bedtime

"At bedtime especially,” Cochiolo said, kids “have a fundamental need to feel safe and comfortable, to feel happy, to not be worried about anything, to feel loved. The key with any meditation practice is to try to create a warm, loving environment that they've participated in."

For these reasons, loving-kindness meditation is a natural fit for children at bedtime. The warm feelings this practice evokes can help relax children and ready them for sleep. In bed, have kids take a deep breath in and a big breath out. Guide them through a couple rounds of breath like this. Then, lead them through the meditation, allowing them to choose the people and beings to send lovingkindness to, including themselves, someone else in their life, an element of the natural world, and finally, all beings everywhere—may they be healthy, may they be safe, may they be happy.


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