Building the Meditation Muscle: How to Help Children Develop a Lifetime Meditation Practice

As a children’s meditation teacher, I am often asked whether it is reallypossible to teach a child to meditate. Indeed, it is possible, though not easy. Many times it is as much a lesson in patience and acceptance for the teacher as it is a journey of exploration for the student.

Each human—adults and children alike—have a unique learning style. Some students thrive in a didactic learning environment, while other require hands-on, experiential learning. Some students pick up concepts quickly, while others only fully grasp a concept through continuous practice. My style is experiential learning with lots of repetition and practice. For many children, tangible experience in a safe space is the only way to truly cultivate a meaningful meditation practice.

Meditation, in particular, can be a challenging practice to establish. I have yet to meet an adult who finds meditation “easy”, which is why meditation apps, videos, and studios have become more popular as the fascination with meditation has grown over the years. As adults, we require frequent—often daily—practice to develop the relaxation and concentration skills necessary to reach a genuine state of meditation. The same is true for children. For many, consistent repetition is the key ingredient to building the meditation muscle from a young age.

I find it surprising and somewhat unfortunate when parents bring their children to my classes and sometimes appear discouraged when a child doesn’t leave the class in a complete state of bliss. Children deserve the space and the grace to develop their own practices slowly through practice and patience just like adults. Classes are just the place to plant the seed. It’s the time spent at home with silence, focus, and conscious repetition when the meditation muscle truly begins to form. For those parents seeking tips on how to grow the seeds of meditation by building a family practice at home, I offer these tips:

1. Ground in the “why”– It is important to help the children understand why they are meditating. Whether for relaxation, concentration, inner guidance, or anxiety support, the gift of meditation provides a multitude of benefits. Connecting with the benefits that resonate with your children is an important first step. Help them articulate the benefits in their own words, making it meaningful to them on a personal level.

2. Dedicate time and space– As with any new habit, dedicating a time each day to practice is key to laying the groundwork. In the morning, children are poised to meditate on gratitude and visualize their day. In the evening, gratitude meditations are also helpful, as are mantras and relaxing guided meditations to promote tranquil sleep. Along with a consistent timeframe, a dedicated space can also foster a sense of ownership as the habit forms. Kids often delight in the idea of creating the meditation space just as they desire. I also encourage a post-meditation drawing or journaling session, after which the drawings can be posted around the dedicated meditation space as inspiration and decoration.

3. Posture is primary– Of all tips I offer my adult students to deepen their practice, the establishment of proper posture is primary on the list. The same tip can help children as well. For younger children, laying down during meditation may be the only option, though this can make it easy to doze off rather than finding a sense of “relaxed awareness”. For others, especially older children, sitting during meditation is accessible. If possible, raising the hips above the knees— by sitting on a cushion or block—can bring the spine into vertical alignment from the crown of the head to the sitsbones. This prevents rounding of the spine and holding in the body. Holding in the body promotes holding in the mind. In this way, proper posture is a big piece of the puzzle when working to quiet the mind during meditation. Teaching kids proper posture from a young age can set them up for successful meditation for a lifetime.

4. Create a relaxing environment– Another big tip I offer adults is to change their environment with a relaxing song (binaural beats are fantastic), a scented candle, or incense. The same can be done with children. Allowing them to choose a relaxing song or their favorite candle can be a fun way to allow them ownership in the process. In addition to fostering a sense of relaxation, a peaceful song or soothing scent can literally trigger the brain that something has changed and, in doing so, permit the brain to release worries and other thoughts that may otherwise hang around. The new, peaceful environment sends a message to our body and mind that this is a safe space to think differently (or not think at all, ultimately).

5. Start small and build slowly– I look to a famous Chinese proverb for inspiration in my daily practice— “Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” In the same vein, practicing meditation for 60 seconds is better than not practicing at all. Start by sitting quietly while listening to a calming song once through. Then talk with your children about how that moment of silence felt and journal or draw a picture to express those feelings. Over time, another peaceful song can be added or perhaps a minute or two of silent meditation. Each day, week, and month is a building block that will forge a solid lifetime practice.

6. Be compassionate– Every day is different. Some days, the focus and relaxation of meditation will come naturally. On other days, it will be uncomfortable and feel downright impossible. It’s on those days that we can benefit from tapping into our compassion to acknowledge that we are all only human. It’s on those days that a mindfulness exercise or conscious breathing (like lion’s breath!) or a conversation about our emotions may be a better fit than a meditation, and that’s ok. Every moment of practice is a moment closer to better understanding and accepting ourselves with compassion. Some might say that is the point of the practice after all.

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