How To Help Your Child Develop Mindfulness Practices
Meditation is beneficial to reduce stress, boost immunity, increase the ability to focus, and enhance compassion in people of all ages. Meditation actually changes the brain so that the meditator has more healthy self-awareness and more ability to regulate. And meditation calms anxiety.
So it seems obvious that every child would benefit by learning to meditate. During this anxious time when children are stressed by remote learning, missing friends, the loss of their favorite activities, and stressed-out parents, helping children learn skills to calm themselves is even more important.
Even very young children can learn how good it feels to drop into inner calm. When I was four, my favorite game was the Still Game. I would convince one of the neighbor children to sit quietly with me, shut our eyes and remain very still. I don't think any of them found this as riveting as I did, so it never lasted long. But I always had a hard time tearing myself away from that deep stillness to reconnect with my playmates and the world. The Still Game felt to me like opening a door to sunshine and peace, and started me on a life path of mindfulness practices.
Children like to move, so they usually don't sit still for long. But all children instinctively connect to presence. I think for children to enjoy meditation, it needs to be something we model, build into the schedule for short periods, and begin in a way that is enticing for the child, such as with guided meditation.
Happily, you don't need to bribe your child to sit still. There are wonderful guided meditations available now to introduce children of all ages to meditation and mindfulness, and they're interesting enough to hold kids' attention. Resources to get you started are listed at the end of this article.
And there are now some terrific books for children (one by Thich Nhat Hanh) to introduce the idea of mindfulness, some of which I've linked to below.
And of course, in addition to there being many ways to Meditate, there are many Mindfulness practices, from learning to notice your body in space, to learning to calm yourself, to learning to be more present. These techniques are often fun for children to learn when they're calm, and if they become a regular part of your family life, your children may even remember to use them when they're angry.
The challenge in getting children to use these strategies for self-regulation is that when a human is angry, suggesting they calm down is like throwing gasoline on a fire. (Do you recall the last time you were really outraged about something that mattered to you? What if your partner or friend, instead of listening to you, had suggested that you take a few deep breaths to calm down?)
So, if you approach mindfulness practices with the attitude that you're "fixing" your child's inappropriate tendency to get emotional, your child will naturally resist. If, instead, you make a family project out of what you might call learning to be aware of our emotions so we can communicate in a kind way and choose our actions, your child will probably be open to the idea. If you play mindfulness games with your child, and talk about how much you're enjoying and learning, your child will also enjoy and learn.
And if you take time to listen to a guided meditation with your child every day, you'll both enjoy it, and before you know it, your child will be asking to play the Still Game!
Guided Meditations for Children
The website MINDFULNESS FOR CHILDREN has lovely guided meditations you can download at no charge.
Here's an article from the New York Times describing some easy meditation/relaxation exercises you can try with your child.
The CALM App has a meditation for kids.
Sesame Street has a free App for Kids: Breathe, Think and Do.
And some guided audios that are easily available for download:
Books and Game Cards to introduce children to the idea of meditation and mindfulness:
Interested in the Research on Kids and Meditation?
There's more every day! Here are some studies to get you started.
- Baijal, S., Jha, A. P., Kiyonaga, A., Singh, R., & Srinivasan, N. (2011). The influence of concentrative meditation training on the development of attention networks during early adolescence. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-9.
- Barnes, V. A., Davis, H. C., Murzynowski, J. B., & Treiber, F. A. (2004). Impact of meditation on resting and ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate in youth. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(6), 909-914.
- Liehr, P., & Diaz, N. (2010). A Pilot Study Examining the Effect of Mindfulness on Depression and Anxiety for Minority Children. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 24(1), 69–71.
- Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M. T., Dariotis, J. K., Gould, L. F., Rhoades, B. L., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(7), 985–994.
- Metz, S. M., Frank, J. L., Reibel, D., Cantrell, T., Sanders, R., & Broderick, P. C. (2013). The effectiveness of the learning to BREATHE program on adolescent emotion regulation. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 252–272.
- Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99–125.
- Raes, F., Griffith, J. W., Van der Gucht, K., & Williams, J. M. G. (2014). School-based prevention and reduction of depression in adolescents: A cluster-randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness group program. Mindfulness, 5(5), 477–486.
- Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.
- Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218–229
- Sibinga, E. M. S., Webb, L., Ghazarian, S. R., & Ellen, J. M. (2016). School-Based Mindfulness Instruction: An RCT. Pediatrics, 137(1), 1-8.
- Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.