In the fast–paced world we and our children live, finding a moment of stillness can be like discovering a precious stone in the mud.
Our children come home from school and often the rest of their day is already filled with structured activities – music, homework, play dates, sports.
We have too much to do to stop a moment and just be. We organize their lives in the same way.
The more they do, the better the parents we must be – right?
I started teaching meditation to my child when he was five, because I realized how overwhelming it was for him to be always doing something.
We started with a book, Aladdin’s Magic Carpet by Marneta Viegas (on Amazon US or Amazon UK). We both loved the idea of quietly following well known characters like Little Red Riding Hood or Jack and the Beanstalk into a deep relaxation state, their dreamy adventures unfolding happily in our minds.
“If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” — The Dalai Lama
I have already written about the profoundly powerful positive impact meditation had on my life. I can just imagine what it could have done if I had started when I was as young as five.
Relaxation and mindfulness are quickly spreading in the curriculum of many schools around the world, to help children and teenagers increase their focus and better manage high levels of stress. Meditation is currently taught in over ten thousand schools internationally, and has significantly reduced student absences and suspensions and led to a higher graduation rate, even in critical schools where the students were surrounded by crime and violence.
Willem Kuyken, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, recently said the spread of mindfulness among children could do for Britain’s mental health what fluoride did for its teeth.
You don’t need anything special to meditate, just a willingness to try. That’s the beauty of it, especially for children: you two (or three or four!) can seat on the floor or on the bed and simply close you eyes.
My take on meditation, when it comes to children, is to make it as simple and spontaneous and unstructured as possible. It really should feel the opposite of doing homework.
As a starting point, a couple or so of methods can be handy. You don’t need to follow any special order, and you absolutely don’t need to do them all, if any – in my experience, all of these have been helpful at some point to ease my child into the right focus:
- Put some uplifting and calming music on the background. The music can be an easy point to start, something the child can focus on.
- Guide a simple visualization. Sounds fancy, but what it really means is just describing a picture of a calm and serene environment, with attention to colours, maybe even animals and characters that will interest your child. Just be careful not to overstimulate him with too many details or too much action.
- Progressive muscle relaxation session. Again, it may sound scary, but it is one of the easiest and most straightforward techniques of relaxation I know of. It involves bringing awareness to each part of the child’s body, ask the child with a calm and steady voice to squeeze the muscles of that part for a couple of seconds, and then let go.
- Connecting to the breath. Ask your child to be aware of his breathing and where it travels in his body – be imaginative with it. The belly rises and falls with the breath. Happiness is breathed in, fatigue (or any negative emotion) is breathed out. Ask the child what colour he wants to breathe in, and what colour he wants to breathe out, and apply the same technique until all his body is full with his favorite colour.
Why not taking out your meditation pillow today, putting a smaller one next to it? Give it a try with your child and see what happens.
My child meditates because it serves him. He is happier and calmer after meditating. Good ideas often occurs to him after taking time off to sit still and just breathe mindfully. We try to do this every night, and it is one of the most precious routines in our day.
I hope this serves you (and your child) too.
P.S. I took this picture of the Dalai Lama saluting a group of children last September, during his visit to London to talk about compassion. The second photo is my son having his quiet time on a yoga block. The last picture is my soft body lemon yellow acrylic colour ready to be used on the canvas. I love the texture, the shininess, the smoothness of my acrylics. I found a quality of meditation in painting. But this is matter for another future post.