An increasing amount of young children have been showing elevated signs of stress and anxiety. We know meditation is a great tool to find peace and balance amid our hectic lives—that's why we enjoy our practice. How do we get our kids to love meditation, too?
An increasing number of children have been showing elevated signs of stress, restlessness, and anxiety starting at a very early age. We know meditation is a great tool to find peace and balance amid our hectic lives—that’s why we enjoy our practice. How do we get our kids to love meditation, too?
The Benefits for Kids
The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) published research that showed an estimated two million more children in the U.S. were diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) between 2003 and 2012 and one million more children were taking medication for it. What's more concerning is—most of the diagnoses started before the age of six.
A study done at the National Therapies Research Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney Australia, showed significant improvements in ADHD symptoms with children who were taught to meditate. The children reported improved attention spans and less hyperactivity.
Other encouraging side effects listed were:
- Improved relationships with their parents
- Better sense of self-esteem
- 50 percent of the children that were on medication either reduced or stopped their medication completely, and still continued to improve their symptoms through continued meditation
Exposing our children to these ancient, yet practical, techniques could help them to cope better with stress and grow into living healthier lives. So how do we get our kids excited about meditating? Here are some meditation techniques and tips that have worked with my three, five, and six-year old children.
Become the Change
Children are prone to copying the behavior of their parents. So starting them on a meditation journey can be as simple as leading by example. When your kids observe you in meditation, it sets a tone that children can learn from. When I’m sitting in meditation in the morning, my children wake up and come sit quietly with me (either on my lap or nearby) and enjoy starting their day in silence.
Schedule a day, or even just a half-day, to dedicate to silence. Even if it’s only a couple of hours, it’ll be pure bliss for you, and a great lesson for your little ones.
You can turn it into a game, “who can be the quietest?” It should be fun for them. And when you do break the silence, create a fun game or song around breaking the silence with words of love, kindness, and good intent.
Start Off Short and Simple
Many experts recommend one minute of meditation per year of age, starting at around age eight. If our kids are being diagnosed with ADHD before the age of six, we may need to start earlier. The structure will depend on your child’s age and nature, which you’ll have to learn with trial and error. My daughter, who just turned three, typically stays comfortably in mediation longer than her older siblings.
Pranayama (Breathing Exercises)
Breath is connected to prana (life-force energy) and oxygenates every cell in our body. Pranayama has been one of the most important tools for my kids’ well-being—as well as my own sanity. It helps them when they are about to burst into a crying fit or when they are too excited to express themselves clearly. All I have to say is, “Let's breathe,” and they know exactly what to do.
Here are a few breathing techniques that are favorites among my kids:
- Ujjayi (Victorious Breath): Explore practicing the “deep ocean sound” at the back of the throat, while taking deep belly breaths. It truly calms and settles their energy. Learn how to do the adult version of Ujjayi.
- Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breath): This is said to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain—leading to better cognitive development. I started them off with a simpler version where they hold one nostril and breathe in and out through the other, then switch sides. (When my daughter turned four, she was able to do an advanced version.)
- Kapalabhati (Shining Breath): They have fun watching their bellies as they push the air out of their mouths while drawing their abdomen in at the same time. Learn how to do the adult version of Kapalabhati.
There's nothing like doing yoga as a family. Sun Salutations are a fun and a generally easy form of yoga to practice together. These 12 poses are said to keep the energy channels of the body open and flowing properly, preventing a host of diseases.
Yoga is a moving meditation, the focus is on the practice itself, breathing, and the poses. Make sure they are breathing evenly during the whole practice.
This is a great bedtime routine. Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that brings your awareness to different areas of the body while lying in stillness. I like to put a little tweak on it for kids and have them imagine magical golden pixie dust is being poured or sprinkled on different areas of the body. It's great for body awareness and gives their minds something to focus on. It's super relaxing and helps prime for great dreams.
Sing and Chant Together Using Mantras
Kids love to sing. Chanting improves focus and concentration and has powerful effects on brain development. Here are a few of my go-to mantras and tips to make the most of the experience:
- The Gayatri mantra has 24 syllables, each of which is connected to a different part of the brain. It has been used to enhance intelligence and intuition. It's also a beautiful song and a great exercise for memory.
- OM is the sound of the universe and divine intelligence: kids can connect with that! Allow your little ones to play with the tone and volume of their OM's and go at their own pace. The sound can range from a strange and harmonious choir to the sound of different animals howling the jungle.
- Chakra toning: Hang up a chart or painting of the chakras (the body's seven major energy centers). Point to the chakra and have them imagine the color in that area of their body. Have them chant the mantra associated with that chakra. You can also just make similar sounds that the vowels make, as in- uh, ooo, oh, ah, eye, aye, and, eee.
After toning or using mantras, ask them to keep their eyes closed for a while and notice how they feel. This is a powerful meditation tool that can help kids gain awareness of the effects of using mantras.
Besides the vast array of health benefits that massage provides, this is one of the most awesome ways to get your kids to LOVE meditation. It not only creates body awareness, but also provides a space for a deep loving connection between you and your child. Ask them to speak up and tell you what areas feel good being massaged (more than likely, it will be their feet, hands, head, and face, as most of us do). I recommend using an organic coconut oil.
Here are a few other creative ways to incorporate meditation into your kids’ lives.
- Prepare a meditation space. Explore in nature and have your child pick a stone (earth), fill a cup with water, burn a candle (fire), and use something like a feather to represent the air element. Put the elements in the center of the room. Kids get really into this and they somehow inherently know this is creating a sacred space. Sit in a circle around the elements and begin your meditation.
- Have them gaze at a burning candle for a period of time, this can be a meditation practice in focus and discipline (fire is interesting enough that it can hold their attention).
- Play a game where you place a book on their head and see how slow and mindfully they can walk to the other side of the room.
The main goal here is not to force your children to meditate, but to get them intrigued and accustomed to it. Make it a fun and positive experience throughout their childhood, so they are more likely to keep it up as a practice as they grow.
ADHD. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://meditationresearch.co.uk/adhd/
Crescentini, C., Capurso, V., Furlan, S., & Fabbro, F. (2016). Mindfulness-Oriented Meditation for Primary School Children: Effects on Attention and Psychological Well-Being. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 805. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00805
Herbert, A., & Esparham, A. (2017). Mind-Body Therapy for Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(5), 31. doi:10.3390/children4050031