The Benefits of Meditation For Children And How To Get Them To Do It

I've heard from many parents who have kids who are interested in meditation, but don't seem to really be able to get into. Other parents I know WISH their kids would meditate to help calm them down. Here's some thoughts on how meditation can help children, and how to help them start their practice.

The benefits of meditation for children

Care2 has an article outlining one of the big benefits of mediation fo children: it increases their attention span:

A new study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that when children are trained to practice meditation, their attention spans are significantly increased.

The researchers tested two yoga-based relaxation practices involving specific meditation and rest techniques with 208 school children (132 boys and 76 girls) between the ages of 13 and 16 years of age. Their attention spans were tested before and after practicing the two techniques: meditation and rest.

Both meditation and rest improved the childrens’ attentiveness significantly but meditation had the greatest impact on the attention scores, regardless of gender or age of the children.

Suite101 has more on the benefits to children and to their classrooms:

Teachers who build meditation into lesson plans report their classroom environments being more peaceful and attribute this to their students’ ability to express compassion to each other, according to Wood.

Therapists have told Wood that meditation reduces test anxiety, builds positive peer relationships and enhances anger management skills. Scientists have found that meditation decreases blood pressure and helps other physical functions.

Parents say meditation raises their children’s self-esteem, helps them relax in the doctor’s office, wind down at bedtime and stay healthier, notes Wood. Children say meditation helps them “prepare for tests and sports events, as well as improves their relationships with their friends, parents, brothers and sisters.” Other children tell Wood they enjoy meditating because it makes them “feel good when they are sad” and because it’s fun.

What age is a good time for children to start meditating?

Deepak Chopra talks about what is a good age for children to start meditating:

There’s no hard and fast rule on this. What’s most important is to make them aware of the value of meditation through your example and then look for their receptiveness. Some children may be ready for meditation as early as eight or ten years of age. Other kids even growing up in homes where both parents meditate, may not feel drawn to meditating themselves until they are in their late teens. It’s important that they don’t feel pressured to meditate because the parents want them to. When they are motivated to start from their own curiosity and desire that is the best indication they are ready, and that is the best indicator for them to continue on in their practice as well.

How to help your children get into their meditation practice

PsychCentral has some recommendations on getting children into the meditation habit:

The earlier you start the child, the better.  Some suggestions for getting children excited about meditating:

Allow them to create a calm corner in their room.  Make sure the colors are soothing as opposed to stimulating – light blues and greens are the most calming.  Buy them a cool eye masks from Target for $1.00 so they get some help closing their eyes.  Take them to find a special rock or stick that they think is neat and can place on their ‘altar.’  Create a tie die or Disney or sports pillow case they can sit on during their practice.

Find out if the child’s heroes meditate.  Ask them to find out for you.  Show them all the ‘cool people’ they admire that meditate.

Make sure to do it at a time when they are their calmest.  Maybe when they wake up?  Or perhaps after they are done with school and need a rest? Definitely avoid times where they are their most energetic and excited.

Sarah Wood shares some of her experience on how to start children out on the meditation path:

Meditation is a relatively big word for most children. This word is sometimes a foreign concept to adults and therefore can be intimidating to the facilitator/Parent. However, it is a big word for something very simple! Moreover, I teach that there is no right or wrong answer for what meditation means and encourage my students to come up with their own meaning. Meditation can be simply closing your eyes and listening to the wind. Meditation can be feeling your hear beat. Meditation can be sitting quietly while you journey to wondrous places.

Before beginning a journey meditation, ask the child to close her eyes and think about what her bedroom looks like. When she opens her eyes ask her, If your eyes were closed when you saw the picture of your bedroom, then how did you see the picture? Performing this short exercise and participating in a discussion about it should alleviate any fears associated with not being able to meditate because it really is that easy.

Next, explain to the child how people usually position their body during meditation. Then let her know any position is perfect as long as she is comfortable. She can meditate sitting up in a chair, lying down, or sitting cross-legged on the floor. Let her know it is best if her eyes are closed, and it might be easier if she puts her hands over her eyes to help keep them closed. Remind the child that she can meditate anywhere. In fact she can meditate for a few minutes in her school classroom without anyone knowing what she is doing. She can even meditate with her eyes open if she prefers.

Parental participation and bribery can also help:

Can you still teach your toddler to meditate in good conscience? Yes, says Anne Kenan, who teaches a meditation class for 3- to 6-year-olds at New York City’s Shambhala Center—but it probably won’t take unless you do it with them. “You don’t have to be a seasoned professional. You can start anytime,” she says. And there’s no need to be too disciplined or structured about meditation when it comes to children. Her own son Rhese, 3, will only sit “for a minute or two,” but, she says, that’s enough. “It’s more getting [your children] familiar with the practice of it. And practicing being still and being quiet,” she says. “They’re not meditating in the sense that they’re following their breath or using a technique. They’re just sitting there. Which is great—that’s how you start.”

Indeed, any parent can tell you that getting a small child to sit still is an accomplishment in itself. Kenan even knows a meditation teacher who bribed her children with sweets to meditate for half an hour. “She’d say, ‘If you sit here for 30 minutes, I’ll buy you a piece of candy,’” Kenan laughs. “It got them to stay there and sit, and now all five children are really amazing meditators.”

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