When I talk to adults about meditation, I find that there is a great deal of confusion about what it means to meditate. If we don’t understand it ourselves, how can we teach it to our children?
At first, I thought meditation was a time-consuming process with rigid expectations and that only a select group of people were suited to it. I pictured the stereotype of calm, “crunchy granola,” go-with-the-flow people who went to yoga class and wore flowy clothes made of natural fabrics. I also believed that meditation could only be done in one way: sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, in complete silence, and with an empty mind. I never thought I’d be a good candidate, being an antsy individual with what seems like too many thoughts going through my head at any given time. How could I possibly relax long enough to quiet my mind?
If you are thinking the same, you may wonder how you can get a child, with endless amounts of energy and sometimes chatter that never stops, to buy into the idea of meditation, much less take part in it. However, contrary to popular belief, children naturally “meditate” all the time. They intuitively recognize that they need down time and engage in activities on their own that create it.
Playing in the woods or on a beach, talking with an imaginary friend, building with Legos, engaging in creative activities, reading a book, exercising, and even playing video games can all be meditative activities. One of my daughters used to line up all her figurines by color and size when she played with them. She would get lost in the task, which is the whole point of meditating. It is about being in the present moment, not thinking about the past or the future.
Meditation isn’t “woo woo stuff” or anything you need special equipment or music for. It is simply time to yourself, with yourself. With their busy and often overstimulated brains, children don’t just need this emotionally and mentally, they need it physically, just like adults do. We can’t be on the go all the time without it impacting our overall health.
If you think your child would enjoy learning about more formal meditation—such as during yoga, sitting in silence, or listening quietly to music—and learning to clear out their thoughts, I would highly recommend it. I think both children and adolescents would benefit from this greatly, especially children in the special needs population who often have trouble with impulsivity and the ability to regulate their own emotions and behavior.
Aside from reducing impulsivity and teaching self-regulation, here are some other ways that meditation can benefit children:
• Meditation can allow us to connect with our intuition, which is our inner loving voice. It helps guide us and warns us when we are exposed to potentially dangerous situations and people. You may be able to explain this to a child as their conscience.
• Meditation has also been linked to a reduction of anxiety. Studies have shown that meditating reduces the activity of our adrenal glands, responsible for our fight or flight response.
• The quality of sleep can be improved by meditation, and the risk of intestinal issues can be lessened due to the reduced production of excess cortisol.
• Meditation can aid in eating more intuitively and healthy weight management. When we are more relaxed, we are less likely to grab unhealthy snacks or eat when we are upset. It also helps control blood sugar and insulin production, which is responsible for fat storage. According to www.obesityaction.org, the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. is 18%.
• Relationships and mood are also improved by meditation, since it helps people to be more aware of their thoughts and emotional responses. It brings a sense of calm, which helps to reduce anger and aggression.
• Finally, meditation can improve concentration, academic performance, and creativity.
Want to start a meditation program in your school or learn more about teaching your child to meditate? These are some organizations that can help.
David Lynch Foundation