Just like adults, children and teenagers may benefit from meditation as part of an overall mindfulness practice—but getting them to be open and receptive to practicing meditation may take some effort on the part of parents. Keep reading for tips on how to introduce and teach meditation to children and teens.
Create a meditation space
Meditation should be done in a quiet place with no distractions. Have your child or teenager sit on the floor, on a mat, or in a chair. You might want to purchase a zafu, which is a round or crescent-shaped cushion to sit on, or a gomden, which is a firm, rectangular cushion that does not change shape when one sits on it. A cushion is not necessary, but younger kids may like having their own colorful “special meditation cushion.”
Find a comfortable position
When sitting, have your child or teen sit upright with his back straight but not too tight. If your child complains that he feels uncomfortable, have him sit on a chair where the pressure is off his back. Sitting down to meditate is usually recommended, but lying down also works. However, people who lie down while meditating are more apt to fall asleep.
Meditation is an exercise that can be done as a whole family. When your child sees you practicing, it may make her curious to do the same thing. Share your experiences with your child. This will help her understand how meditation is applied in life. Teach her there are no right or wrong ways to meditate, and that over time with repeated practice, she’ll experience more results. Make the time together special and have fun!
There are many ways to meditate. In mindfulness meditation, the focus is on the breath.
Make it a regular practice
Meditation practice can be done at any time. Bedtime may be an optimal time to help your child unwind from a busy day, as meditation can help him relax and assist with sleep. Whenever you and your child decide to meditate, turn off all electronic devices to ensure no interruptions. Inform other family members that you will be meditating and that you do not wish to be disturbed. Although frequency is important for creating a regular practice, the experience should be enjoyable and not another chore in a child’s already busy schedule. Never use it as a disciplinary tool.
Accept that thoughts might wander
Our minds are constantly moving, with thoughts randomly coming in and out. If this happens for you or your child during meditation, don’t worry! It is very natural for our minds to be busy. The goal of meditation is not to clear the mind completely. Let your child know it is okay to have thoughts and that her mind may wander. Let her know that if a thought comes into her mind, to gently bring her attention to her breath. You can recommend that she acknowledge the thought, but try not to get caught up in the story or details.
Start with short periods of time
In the beginning, sitting still may seem like an eternity to a child or teen. It can even feel that way for adults! Tell your child it is fine to feel fidgety or sleepy. If he is full of energy, it may not be the best time to begin practicing meditation. Start out meditating for short periods and gradually increase the time practicing. Depending on your child’s age, three to five minutes is a realistic amount of time for children just starting out. Use a timer, because it will indicate to your child when the meditation ends and keeps him from focusing on the time or saying, “When is this over?” Teach your child that with continued practice, he’ll be able to sit and meditate for longer periods.
Encourage your child
Sometimes newness can create anxiety. Your child or teenager may feel self-conscious about meditation and respond by giving up or saying, “This is dumb!” Listen to and validate your child’s feelings of uncertainty, self-consciousness, or aversion to the practice—you might even find that validating her feelings may increase participation. Give your child the opportunity to share her experiences, as well. Avoid pushing a child or teen into meditation practice, which may increase resistance or anxiety about doing meditation. Encourage her to give it time. Applaud and reinforce her interest, effort, and openness. For younger children, you can also use reward systems; for example, you could say, “Let’s meditate for a few minutes and then I will read you a story.”
Vary the meditation practice
There are many ways to meditate. In mindfulness meditation, the focus is on the breath. You may also try guided meditation, which is led by a practitioner or teacher using guidance that is written or verbal. Another option is mantra meditation, which utilizes special words or phrases that your child can reflect on while meditating. For example, he can meditate on the word “calm” or “peace,” or on a phrase, such as “I am relaxed” or “I am peaceful.” Beyond focusing on the breath, you can teach children and teens to focus on other things, such as sounds, sensations, and smells. You can use objects to help with focusing, such as watching a candle burn or putting glitter in a jar of water, shaking it up, and watching the glitter swirl around until it settles. Find the method that works best for your child or teen, and change it up to keep meditation interesting and fun. There are great meditation apps available for download, as well. Some of them are free and some require monthly or yearly subscriptions, so explore a few to see what works for your child and for you!
Although meditation can be a wonderful, calming, and helpful practice for children, in no way should it be a substitute for professional help if your child is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other serious behavioral or clinical issues. In those instances, it may be appropriate to seek a consultation from a licensed psychologist or other licensed mental health professional.
Related Books from Magination Press
Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation
Bentley is a lovable, calm honeybee. He lives in a hive in a tall oak tree. One day, the queen told the bees to get busy. This sent them scrambling into a tizzy. But not Bentley. He chose to be patient and wait. He decided to look for a place to meditate. Bee Still is a child-friendly introduction to meditation. Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with more ideas for introducing meditation into your child’s life.