Meditation is not just trending for adults. These days it circulates the halls of schools and extracurricular programs to help children and teenagers build critical life skills like focus, resilience, and self-regulation.
Studies show that meditation can help children combat anxiety and depression, among many other benefits, while it may also play a role in disease prevention and treatment, such as reducing blood pressure. But, along with research come myths that foster false expectations about just how easy it is for children to establish and sustain a meditation routine.
Continuing from “Popular Myths About Children’s Meditation (Part 1)”, the following are a few more popular myths and another fresh perspective for consideration.
Myth #4: Children will learn how to meditate well after the first few sessions.
If only adults could learn to meditate well after a few sessions. Most meditating adults I know admit they’ve been practicing for years and still feel like they’re “not doing it right” or still have days when it feels like torture to sit even for a minute when the to-do list is calling. We all have those days, myself included. If we don’t expect ourselves to master it quickly, how can we assume that a child will sit in meditation, even for just a few minutes, without sufficient practice?
Many people believe it takes twenty-one days to establish a habit, while others argue it could take three times that long. Every day leading up to that magic “I got it!” moment requires consistent practice and patience. Not all days along the path will be successful despite showing up to practice, and not all children will take the same path to get there. Some children will find comfort with meditating for a minute within the first few attempts, while some will take weeks to achieve a minute in contemplation, all while observing others’ success before feeling ready to give it a try themselves.
I like to think about meditation class as an opportunity to “plant seeds” that will eventually grow into “superpowers”. Some children are more skeptical than others— as are some adults, to be fair). They need more time to carefully plant the seeds in their own way before watering them to grow. In some classes, children don’t appear to be listening or shyly sit in silence while others actively participate. It may be possible to try an alternate approach that better suits their unique needs, but sometimes it’s just their way of making space for learning something new and different to what they learn in other, more traditional classes. Those are often the kids who surprise you several days or weeks down the road by proudly sharing their own version of a peaceful meditation.
Often times the children who embrace meditation more readily have parents with strong meditation routines. As a parent, I can’t overstate the benefit of maintaining your own practice and sharing it with your children as an example and even a bonding experience.
Ultimately, whether your child takes one week or one year to sit quietly with her thoughts in meditation, don’t lose hope; lose your expectations and gain the peace of mind that, at her own pace, she’s watering those seeds and forging a superpower.
Myth #5: What works for one child works for another when learning to meditate.
Teachers will attest, every child is unique, and not every lesson plan works for every student. Even the best laid plans, or the most well-planned curriculums, should be changed to suit the needs of each class. Along with the expectation of how quickly a child will learn to meditate, the expectations about how a child will learn to meditate should be left at the door. Different personalities, different perspectives, and different energy—even from day to day— mean successful student engagement will require an open mind and a penchant for going with the flow. That’s not to say planning and structure aren’t important. They can be your best support when your curriculum falls flat. The trick is to have a full toolbox from which to pull ideas and then to be flexible on the spot. It’s also necessary to give a child personal space, which sometimes means allowing them to sit in the corner and observe the class on their own terms.
As a meditation teacher, my job is to serve as a guide for students to build their own meditation and mindfulness practices. Some children will enjoy the mindfulness activities more, and some will welcome the peaceful break that meditation offers. From personal experience, the conscious breathing exercises tend to be the easiest way to engage children. They’re simple, yet they can be made to be fun and challenging.
Mindfulness activities usually come in second given the opportunity for movement, but not all mindfulness games appeal to every child. I usually bring at least two options for mindfulness exercises to each class, and, when in doubt, bring back an activity that the kids loved in the last class and give it a new spin. Or better yet, allow the children to create their own mindfulness activity. You’d be surprised at how creative and thoughtful they can be. I tend to learn a lot from kids’ feedback and suggestions.
Meditation tends to take the longest to truly stick; this is where patience is critical and ideals go out the door pretty quickly. Some children seem to take to it immediately, showing you their best lotus pose and mudras as soon as they hear the word “meditation”. But when it comes to brass tax, sitting still is not always accessible to them in the moment. I highly recommend the use of props—bubble counters or stress balls—to give them something to release their nervous energy. This is something I’ve learned the hard way. Over time, children can move to a “meditation seat” and eventually close their eyes. Their thirty seconds of meditation can increase to minutes. No matter how it happens, it’s important to encourage their willingness to try and to create space for sharing afterwards. I usually like to talk about how the meditation made them feel (enter mindfulness!) and what they saw, thought, and experienced. Sometimes they’ll be willing to discuss it, and sometimes they prefer to draw it. Either way, the process of sharing their experience facilitates a personal connection with the practice that cannot be undervalued.
For children learning to meditate at home instead of in class, a dedicated meditation space can allow them to create a conducive environment for their needs, giving them the best chance of establishing a meditation practice to which they’ll look forward.
Myth #6: Children will always be calm after a meditation session.
Just as every child learns meditation differently, every child responds to meditation differently. The myth that every child will serenely saunter out of the room relaxed and refreshed is just that, a myth.
If you’ve ever been mired in stress and taken the time to sit in meditation, you’ve likely been met with a variety of emotions. Sometimes the fears or anxieties flood your mind, making it all but impossible to maintain your focus. Other times you feel like you’ve finally “got it”, and you finish feeling like a new person. Every meditation promises a new experience for both adults and children. Kids don’t always have the emotional intelligence to understand the feelings that may arise or the tools to manage them. Enter mindfulness—the toolbox that facilitates their journey to uncover, accept, understand, and ultimately release the thoughts and feelings that don’t serve them.
I’ve seen children start a meditation session dripping with energy and leaving with just as much, while others leave crying due to unexpected emotions. Most, though, describe themselves as “happy” or “calm” and are excited to share what they “saw” in their mind during a guided meditation. No matter how they process the thoughts that come up, the experience itself can provide a rare peek into their minds. I challenge you to embrace whatever arises, to encourage discussion afterward, and to be patient.