Why Teach Children To Meditate?

We all want happy, healthy lives for our children but in todays high-tech, fast paced world it’s pretty easy for our children to become over-stimulated, overwhelmed and disconnected to their natural world. As a result there are increasing reports of high levels of anxiety and mental health problems amongst children as young as primary school age. Living in this world today our children need tools to become more mindful and better able to cope with the increasing pressures of modern living.

They say a modern person gets as many stimuli in one day as our grandparents got in an entire year. We cannot stop stimuli around our children, but we can teach them how to navigate between them and how to find peace, balance and most importantly, joy in life.
— Gitte Winter Graugaard

This is where a regular meditation and mindfulness practice comes in as it has several beneficial effects on a child’s emotional, mental and intellectual development. 

Giving children the tools to help them fend off negative thoughts and behaviour, build self-confidence and self awareness, increase their attention, deal with difficult emotions, fall asleep, improve immunity and treat themselves and others with respect, kindness and compassion is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give them.

Here are my top 4 tips on how to introduce meditation and mindfulness to your children —

1. Lead By Example

If you want your children to embrace meditation, you have to meditate yourself! As a rule of thumb, I tend to only teach children Vedic meditation if one of their parents have learnt. Children learn by example and seeing you make the time to connect with yourself will leave a lasting impression on them.

Children do not learn by “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality; they observe our actions and follow suit based on how we engage ourselves. Children will emulate parents and incorporate these powerful tips at a younger age, if parents are also practicing meditation. By watching you, they will naturally become curious and older children can really identify the effect meditation has on you.

A lot of parents I teach have reported feeling guilty when they take the time out to meditate (especially mothers) but as a meditator, you are a blessing to your children. It’s important to remember children absorb the energy of their parents and the environment they live in. By allowing your children to witness your meditation practice and the energy you bring forth as a result of it, you are encouraging a beautiful memory and a positive tool that will forever be planted in their psyche.

The greatest communication is usually how we are rather than what we say.
— Joseph Goldstein

2. Keep It Light And Learn To Let Go

The idea of teaching children to meditate may seem wonderful, but it is not easy. In fact, it can be very frustrating if you do not keep a flexible and patient perspective ie. do not try it when you are exhausted and short-tempered after a long day. 

Teaching meditation to children is about learning that it is a personal journey for them and for you. Children will not always respond the way adults want them to and meditation is no different. We can guide them in how to sit, close their eyes and all the steps to take, but if they do not want to they should not be forced to do it. 

Let the child develop their own curiosity and it is really really important to let go and have a sense of humour and play around it. If you think your children will just sit still during meditation you are going to be disappointed (some do but they are rare). 

We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy and a serious responsibility not to be serious.
— Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Sometimes my children giggle their way through meditation and don’t stop moving (I find giving them a hand, head or foot massage with essential oils during meditation helps with this), other times they fall asleep. When I teach other children Vedic Meditation we have a lot of fun and there is a real playfulness in how I approach it. Either way I don’t expect them to be ‘perfect’ meditators — the main thing is to plant the seed so they can return to their place of stillness when they need it most. 

3. Start With Simple Breathing And Mindfulness Exercises

I often incorporate a little breath work or mindfulness into our bedtime routine at home. 

I might also read a book prior to this and one of my favourites is Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean. This book is great for understanding emotions and how meditation will help us calm down. Other favourites are ‘Making Mindful Magic’ by Lea McKnoulty and ‘The Children’s Meditations In My Heart’ by Gitte Winter Graugaard. 

When taught well, mindfulness can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and well-being of young people. These effects are particularly strong in reducing mental health problems, especially for children with more serious levels of difficulty. Mindfulness can reduce depression, stress, anxiety, reactivity and difficult behaviour. It can improve well-being, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation and sleep. It increases the ability to manage emotions and increases self-awareness, self-esteem and empathy. Mindfulness also has a clear impact on academic achievement, improving learning by contributing to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. It seems to help by enabling young people to pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory and enhance planning, problem solving and reasoning skills.
— Thich Nhat Hanh and Katherine Weare from the book ‘Happy Teachers Change the World.’

Here are a few of my favourites that I use regularly with my children —

Guided Meditation: The Balloon

This guided meditation brings a visual component to a very simple deep breathing exercise. You can do this standing or seated ~

Relax your body and begin to take deep inhales and slow exhales through the nose.

Start to take a slow, deep breath to fill your belly up with air, as if you’re trying to blow up a big balloon. Expand your belly as much as you can.

Slowly let the air out of the balloon (through the nose) as you release the breath from the belly.

Encourage your kids to feel their entire body relax each time they exhale, each time air is slowly being released from the balloon. You can even make a “hissing” noise to encourage them to slow down the exhale even more, “Like letting air out of the balloon.”

Continue for several minutes.

Sit Like A Frog

Mindfulness instructor Eline Snel offers several exercises for teaching meditation and mindfulness to children. One of the exercises is inviting a child to be like a frog. This exercise is adapted from Sitting Still Like a Frog:

See if you can pretend to be a frog sitting very, very still on a lily pad. While you sit on that lily pad, Mr. Frog, you breathe. If you move too much, your lily pad will tip over, and you’ll wind up in the water. So, you just sit still as your green frog tummy goes in and out. Although you can leap high into to the sky, you can also sit still like a statue, like you are now. Because you’re a frog, you just watch what’s happening all around you and within you, and you don’t jump into action right away. You simply sit still and breathe on that lily pad, storing up your energy. Notice how your tummy goes in and out, Mr. Frog. In and out.

Nothing beats being present with your children as they are meditating but when exhaustion hits or the dish pile is high, you can turn to these meditation apps — Insight Timer (search kids meditation), Headspace, Calm or even YouTube to find some great kids meditation videos.

4. Find A Meditation Teacher 

Learning to meditate from an actual person will have far greater impact on your children than trying to teach them yourself or use an app. When I teach children Vedic Meditation (from the age of 7) there is no expectation for them to start meditating silently for 20 mins twice a day. They are given their mantra and are encouraged to practice it for 1 minute up to the number of minutes of their age. Once one of their parents has learnt Vedic Meditation with me, I teach their children for free and it brings me so much joy knowing what a profound impact it will have on their lives. 

If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.
— Dalai Lama

Natalie x