Meditation with children is as simple as breathing. My very first memory was breathing with my mother. My head was resting on her chest while we were both lying on her bed. My belly was on her belly and I tried to match the gentle rise and fall of her breath, but I couldn’t slow down enough. The memory ends there because I most likely fell asleep.
Trying to control the rate of my own breathing by following my mother’s is an example of how to meditate with children, regardless of age. To calm a baby, we too must be calm. To ask our children to be attentive to their thoughts and emotions, have a healthy relationship with their body and mind, we too, have to emulate this. Meditation is an effective skill to realize these goals.
If you meditate yourself, why not share it with the family? If you have never meditated before, having children is a perfect opportunity to add a healthy habit.
If you have tried and given up on meditation, why not look at it with new eyes as a parent? Meditation and other mindfulness practices are affordable and accessible guides towards physical and mental health. There have been numerous studies on meditation and mindfulness, especially in recent years.
The most well-known effect of meditation is reducing stress. Stress is responsible for many psychological and physiological problems including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. It makes sense that meditation studies have shown to reduce these symptoms, plus help with the management of chronic illnesses and pain, and to stop smoking.
Practicing mindfulness means putting away distractions and focusing on the moment. Spending time to be with yourself isn’t selfish, it’s a necessary part of being healthy. Daily meditation builds trust within your own body and mind. Inviting your children to participate can be a bonding experience. Religion has traditionally been the tool for mindfulness practices both alone and with a family and community. As our modern culture moves away from organized religion, the need for contemplation has never gone away. Meditation can be a wonderful way to find peace and compassion with yourself and others. I, personally, am both religious and practice mindfulness and meditation.
Usually, the most common reason for not starting a meditation practice is the false idea of meditation being only for people who can magically clear their minds and sit in an uncomfortable position for hours. While that is certainly one way to meditate, there are numerous branches of the mindfulness practice to bring into your family life:
Sharing a meal is an excellent opportunity for mindfulness. Grace or saying thanks does not have to be religious (unless wanted.) Lighting a candle at dinner and asking everyone to take one deep breath before digging in can encourage mindful eating. Sitting at breakfast together and going around the table to say one thing about the upcoming day, can foster calm and encouragement.
You can take a “listening walk” with your children in nature (chatting afterward about what everyone heard). Working in the garden together, leaving moments without chatter, just being with the earth. Washing the dishes with a focused mind can be meditative.
You can listen to gentle music while lying on your back for five minutes to ease you and your child to sleep. Getting up 15 minutes earlier than everyone else in the morning and sitting quietly with your cup of tea or coffee, or a shower before bed to spend a minute enjoying the feel of the water, are ways to bring mindfulness into your parenting days. Even wandering a bookstore can be meditative. Being quiet in whatever environment brings you peace is a form of meditation.
The more traditional sitting meditation can also be varied with breathwork, body scans, mantras, or listening to a guided teacher for whatever length of time you have available that day. Try one of the many books, meditation apps or video channels to get started. If you don’t like a guide, look for another to find your fit. Yoga for you and your children is an excellent way to bring focused breathwork into your life, which also gets your bodies moving.
I recently led a musical theater camp for children ages 9 – 14. Each morning, after everyone greeted each other, we did a group stretch while the stragglers made their way in. Then the kids and all counselors were led to sit in a circle on the floor together. The first day I simply said, “I invite you now to sit quietly with me for one minute. Please close your eyes or look at the patterns on the rug. Now.” And then I pressed start on my timer, closed my own eyes and took a deep breath. I kept on breathing until the chime on my phone went off. “That was a minute?” was the first comment and most of the kids agreed it seemed fast. I thanked them for joining me and then we went over the schedule for the day.
I did this each morning for the week. There were only a few questions about this quiet sitting, and I peeked a couple of days to see that with one exception (the youngest child who was picking at her nails) everyone had their eyes closed and were very still. The teenagers seemed to appreciate this the most. Each day I increased the time, and started giving a few tips on how to sit straight or feeling the belly breathe or a simple visualization. By the end of the week, I let them know they had just completed a seven-minute meditation. They were mildly surprised. It was the first time I had used the “M” word. I’ve taught camps for many years and this was one of the most drama-free (aside from the script) week with kids I’ve ever had. Looking at the science, I’m sure meditation helped foster calm during our days together.
The key to all meditation is consistency. The word “practice” is not incidental. Meditation is practice for a way of thinking all the time. Then when challenges situations arise, we are ready to breathe slower, focus, and calm ourselves into making a healthy response to whatever comes our way. There is no wrong way to meditate; the intention is enough to foster growth. What a wonderful life lesson for all our children.
I wish I had started earlier with my own kids and meditation, but my own journey began with my teen daughter. I wrote about that experience in a previous post. Now, I meditate with my nieces the morning after a sleepover. Their mother uses Insight Timer app and they have favorite guided meditations just for kids on there. They especially like the ones just before sleep.
Try it. Today. Just find a way to be mindful together. Being quiet, side by side, together, is just right.