"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.
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.”
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.
"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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