My Girls and Meditation
Why would you want to meditate with your kids?
Adults are not the only ones who carry stress and anxiety. Children more and more seem to be feeling stressed sooner rather than later. Stress, anxiety and fear make us less resilient, open and skillful in life. We begin to operate to survive, rather than thrive. Practices like meditation and breath work regulate the nervous system, strengthen and grow the parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, decision making and empathy, while balancing the parts associated with fear and anxiety. Moreover, I have found that meditating with my girls on school mornings has become a sweet way for all of us to pause, center and nourish together.
Like most new routines, they don’t come easily without some effort and persistence. However, eight weeks in, meditation is a part of our morning ritual very much like brushing our teeth. Here are a few tips and lessons I have learned.
- Keep it short.
I would say five minutes or less works best depending on the age of your child. My daughters are 9 and 11. When I suggested the idea of a weekday morning meditation, it was not something unfamiliar to them and they were willing to try it out. If they had resisted too much, I would have backed off. Pushing through resistance for these kind of things is a surefire way for your child to not want to practice.
- Keep it simple.
- Simplicity is important. We rest our attention often on the breath or sounds. I might ask them to call upon imagery, like a balloon expanding and deflating with the breath. Rather than meditation, I often offer the time as a way to rest. They seem to like it when described in this way, rather than a way to become more focused or clear. That can feel like another thing to do. Honestly, thoughts may not subside for some time, but it is possible to rest while thoughts come and go. Regardless, the practice enables focus, among many things, whether it is described in this way or not.
- Keep it playful.
- We usually begin with some fun breath work (kapala bhati or long exhales with a sigh) or even a few moments of gentle stretching. It can feel more active and playful before we settle down to rest with the more subtle practice of being with our breath.
- We end with chanting Om. My youngest loves to sing so for her this is an opportunity to see how long she can extend a single Om. Though she may not realize it, extending the exhale is an effective way to regulate our system.
- We also end with affirmations. Some days my daughters might playfully add something to the end. For example, today we affirmed, “May I be peaceful. May I be well. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be well.” My daughter asked to add onto the affirmations, “May all sweets be tart. May all tarts be sweet”. We laughed together. Laughter itself is great for our general well-being.
- Keep it flexible.
- There is a balance between too little and too much structure. Too little and we lose the intention and effect of practice. Too much and it becomes another goal oriented task that we are squeezing in, with diminishing benefits along the way.
- We usually practice as soon as the girls come down, before they eat breakfast. There have been days where time has been short. On those days we allowed ourselves to practice for less time, 2 minutes. Even if and when a day is skipped, be mindful of becoming too critical. Missing a day is an opportunity to strengthen your resolve to practice the next day.
- More often we sit upright to practice, but I don’t impose it. There are days they lay on their back or their side. The point is either way we are pausing and nourishing ourselves.
- Practice with them.
- Although I hold the space, I am practicing with them. I am less of a teacher and more a participant in our collective experience. I offer a little guidance, but I also allow them to take the reigns when they are willing. They have the autonomy to choose how we practice or what we might bring our attention to. It is surprising what children are capable of when we give them space and responsibility to direct their own experience.
Most of all, meditation is transformative when the benefits of practice slowly extend into our day – qualities like patience, ease, focus, creativity, capacity to listen and to respond skillfully, to be kind, compassionate and resilient, and to be attuned to our hearts and our truth. What we do on our cushion is the beginning of what will carry forward in our lives. Can you imagine a world where children have these kind of tools sooner rather than later? I can and I hope to do my part in creating it.
If you have your own insights, challenges or questions related to meditation and children, I would love to hear from you.