These days meditation is more than just a buzzword. Chances are you know someone who uses it regularly, and you may even have a daily practice yourself. No fewer than a dozen meditation apps are available for personal use. And its cousin, mindfulness, has found its way into the boardrooms at work and the halls at school.
Once below the surface, you realize that meditation and mindfulness are really two sides of the same coin. Meditation is an integral part of many children’s mindfulness programs, which are on the rise thanks to programs like Mindful Schools, Mindful Life, Meditot, and many more. In England, a number of schools have instituted Mindfulness as a new school subjectwith relaxation and breathing techniques as core lessons, similar to that of a meditation class. You’re bound to hear more about children’s meditation and mindfulness in the coming years. Now is the time to debunk the myths about what to expect from children’s meditation.
The following are three popular myths and a fresh perspective for consideration.
Myth #1: Only adults can meditate.
If you’ve been to an adult meditation class, you know how difficult it can be to allow yourself the time and space to relax and focus for a good amount of time. Imagine attempting to do so with the energy of an average five-year-old. Indeed, it is not easy for kids to settle down for meditation.
However, teaching children to meditate is possible with patience, consistency, and creativity. Creativity is key to developing fun mindfulness activities that will draw their attention and invite them to participate. Through these activities, children learn how to help themselves engage in conscious breathing and how to be mindful of their thoughts, feelings, and body. They’ll burn off excess energy and build comfort in eventually sitting with their thoughts in meditation even for thirty seconds. Once they practice relaxing for thirty seconds, over time it can slowly be increased to one minute, two minutes, and longer.
With creativity to engage interest and consistency in practice to build a habit, you’d be surprised how well children can eventually learn to meditate. Some argue that children may actually be more natural meditators than adults when it comes down to it. Myth or fact? Why not give it a shot and see for yourself?
Myth #2: Children must learn to stop their thoughts to effectively meditate.
This is actually a myth that should be debunked for both children andadults. While it may seem impossible to ask children to completely stop their thoughts (it is virtually impossible, to be fair), it is also just as impossible to ask the same of adults.
Most mindfulness meditation teachers will tell you that the goal of meditation is not to stop your thoughts; it’s to give yourself the space to consciously observe your thoughts, on purpose, without judgement, as they pass through your mind.
One of my favorite children’s meditations is “sitting like a frog on a lily pad”. This is a guided meditation that is helpful during the first class to help children learn how to find stillness as a frog on a lily pad, while maintaining awareness of their breath and watching their thoughts pass by like fish in the pond below them. (I highly recommend the book Sitting Still Like a Frog for a similar meditation and many more mindfulness exercises). The point is, children don’t have to stop their thoughts to successfully meditate. They can be comfortable with finding stillness in their bodies, as it is accessible to them, and ultimately welcoming a calmer mind with fewer, slower, more thoughtful fish swimming in the pond below them.
Myth #3: Children will sit in meditation during the entire class.
If you’ve read the explanation to debunk the other two myths, then you probably already have the idea that sitting still in meditation for long periods is not likely to happen for children, at least not without lots and lots of practice.
One thing is for certain when it comes to children’s meditation: expectations must be left at the door of the classroom. Any preconceived notion about what should or what will take place is a recipe for disappointment and can mean the children feel forced to do what the teacher has planned rather than feeling free to be themselves as they learn how to be mindful about…themselves. I like to think of a meditation class as an opportunity to plant seeds, or build tools, that children can use to help themselves with difficulties like anxiety, focus, and self-confidence. Over time, those seeds will grow into superpowers that have the power to change lives. But first, practice and patience.
Meditation classes should meet children where they are in the moment. Sometimes they arrive to class bounding with energy while other times they are tired, upset, or even tense. No matter how they arrive, they are generally not ready to sit still on command. A thoughtful curriculum can help them be mindful of how they feel at the beginning of class and give them the opportunity to playfully practice being mindful of their breath and their body before bringing them to a more relaxed state to use their breath awareness in a brief meditation. So, whether they sit in meditation for thirty seconds or five minutes— or some days not at all if it’s not on the menu for them that day— it’s important to accept them as they are in that moment, just as you would have them accept themselves. Be confident in the thought that the seeds you are planting will grow with practice and blossom when it’s right for the child, not for you.