There are many benefits to meditation, and it can be a healthy habit for kids. But you have to be careful about assuming they have the same needs that adults do.
A regular meditation practice, filled with exercises in focused attention, can obviously help a child focus in all aspects of their life. Meditation can also help with impulse control, a great relief for parents of a child who wants everything right now, and a great relief for the child.
But most adults meditate for stress relief, and assume their children need the same thing.
While it’s true that an overstressed child can become mentally or physically sick, we must not teach our children that stress is necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, stress can be a tremendous motivator.
Kids are learning to achieve goals, and a little stress and anxiety before a big test, or tryouts for a team or a part in the play is only natural. Perhaps instead of telling kids they shouldn’t be stressed, and giving them practices aimed at minimizing stress, we should encourage them to be more prepared for the event they’re working toward. And allow them the independence to succeed or fail on their own.
There’s too much emphasis from many mindfulness teachers on always feeling good and not enough emphasis on managing expectations, preparation and hard work. Don’t coddle your children by trying to remove all stress from their lives.
Meditation, properly practiced and properly taught, can help kids with the resilience they need to work harder and smarter through the self-discipline of practice.
Prepare your children for the inevitability that some difficult thoughts or feelings may come up during meditation, and give them the encouragement and safety to speak about it to you when they hit a rough spot.
Don’t expect a child to always be happy and well-adjusted. Meditation will not do that. But meditation will help most kids who undertake it, so encourage your child to practice.
But how to meditate with kids?
Traditional seated practice with the attention placed on the breath is possible, but may not be the best option. If you do this practice with your child (as it’s good to meditate with your child) practice for one minute for each year of their life.
Start with just two or three minutes, add one minute per week, and work up to the number of minutes that equals their age.
Surprise your child, and while they’re breathing tell them to focus on the cooling sensation in their nostrils when they inhale and the warming again when they exhale. They’ll be delighted and impressed that they never noticed this before.
My daughter made a meditation jar that even I like to practice with. In a mason jar she put colored water, some beads and a handful of glitter – sort of like a snow globe, but shinier. You shake it up and just sit and watch the glitter fall out until there’s no movement at all. It’s beautiful and great for focusing and calming.
Another fun and effective practice is a standing meditation. With your child, just stand still and drop your gaze to the floor. Feel your soles and legs adjust as you just stand still. Feel the swaying of your body, like a tree in a breeze. Your child will be amazed that there’s no such thing as truly standing still. We always move.
Practice doesn’t have to be boring.
Don’t resort to apps. Give them a break from media and technology.
Be sensitive and empathetic. While meditation can benefit most kids, it may not be the best practice for those with serious ADHD or autism. For these kids it may cause damaging rumination. They can benefit from other practices in focused attention such as movement and meaningful work, from practicing a musical instrument to practicing a martial art to building model ships.