Meditation has now been linked to so many physical and mental health gains. Lower stress, emotional resilience, lower health care costs, better emotional control and improved physical performance have all been scientifically proven as benefits of meditation and mindfulness. With such significant rewards and the rising awareness of positive mental health practices, you might be thinking about getting your child involved with a regular meditation practice.
Meditation has been proven to be beneficial for adults, teens, senior citizens and the elderly. It holistically improves the lives of men and women, so it is logical for parents, grandparents and carers to wonder, “How young is too young to introduce a child to meditation?”
If you are asking this question, you’re not alone. Take a look through meditation forums and you see more than a few questions like the following:
“Is my 9-year-old daughter too young to learn meditation?”
“My son just turned 6. Is that too young for meditation?”
“I have heard about meditation for toddlers. How does that work?”
Meditation might not be the first thought that enters your mind when you think of energetic, active pre-schoolers and toddlers. Many think that because young kids do not have fully formed brains, they incapable of meditating properly and the practice is a waste of time.
Science tells us differently.
Multiple studies show “immediate behavioural changes in children” once they begin meditating. The National Therapies Research Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women in Australia performed a study on 26 children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) between 2003 and 2012. The children were between the ages of 4 and 12. A regular practice of Sahaja Yoga Meditation took place for 6 weeks. Here are just a few results of that meditation practice:
- A reduction in medication use by 50% of the child test subjects
- Better parent-child relationships
- Enhanced feelings of self-esteem and self-worth
- A reduction in hyperactivity, and a simultaneous improvement in attention
- Less impulsive activity
**Statistics taken from International Meditation Teacher’s and Therapists Association Fact Sheet
We’ve got many more examples of how meditation can benefit kids. In many schools across Australia, teachers now guide their students to practice simple breathing techniques in class time. Benefits have also even been seen with kids who are just around parents/carers that perform yoga, meditation or meditative practices. Meditation experts, authors and researchers have seen meditation calm and relax children younger than 2 years of age.
Studies are showing increased attention, better grades, lower levels of stress and anxiety, better self-awareness and healthy self-regulation are all benefits from meditation for children. Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, points to years of research that show meditation helps make kids happier and more compassionate, and aids in the developing of good habits.
So how do we do it?
Teaching toddlers to meditate may be as simple as introducing a calm, relaxed environment where they spend time with a parent or loved one. In older children, more regimented and traditional meditation practices show significant benefits, even years down the road.
Children are never too young to benefit from a healthy environment.
Exposure to meditation, relaxation and mindfulness techniques can never begin too early for your child. Some simple meditation techniques to try at home with your toddler or young child include:
Cuddle time/Box breathing: Pull your toddler onto your lap in a quiet, calm room with warm lighting. Breathe in a 4-second cycle, 3-4 times, encouraging your child to match your breathing:
Inhale for four seconds
Hold breath four seconds
Exhale for four seconds
Hold lungs empty for four seconds
Even if your child does not match your breathing pattern, they will benefit from the effects of your body and mind relaxing. They will begin to feel calm and content; and you will too!
Butterfly Breathing: Kids who can follow simple instructions to use their body will benefit from this active breathing practice, where they imagine they are a butterfly and get to lift their arms much like a butterfly flapping its wings. This exercise helps relax the muscles and bring about calm through the regulation and observation of the breath.
Begin by standing with back straight and feet slightly apart and flat on the floor, arms hanging straight down at your sides with hands open and fingers pointing toward the floor. Exhale fully.
Inhale slowly as you raise your arms, keeping them straight and taking them up at your sides until the backs of your hands meet high above your head.
Continue to inhale as you stretch upwards. The breath should be a long slow inhalation in time with the raising of your arms into the fully raised position.
Hold your breath while stretching for just a moment and then begin to exhale slowly while bringing your arms back down to your sides and returning to the position you started in. Hold your breath for just a moment as you gently reach toward the floor. Repeat ten times.
Progressive Relaxation: This practice is great for kids (and adults) of all ages, whether they’re having trouble sleeping, stressed out, sick and in bed, or “acting out”. Guide your kids with these steps:
Sit down or lie down comfortably and close your eyes. You can use pillows or blankets to make yourself as comfortable as you can be.
- Take a few deep, cleansing breaths as you begin to relax.
- Bring all of your attention to your right foot, noticing how it feels. Squeeze the right foot, making a fist with your entire right foot and all five toes; tense and squeeze it tightly. Hold this tension for two deep breaths.
- Then release all tension in the right foot suddenly. Relax it completely and notice the tension release. You may feel a tingling sensation in the foot.
- Take a deep breath, and then move on…
- Move your attention to your left foot. Same instructions as for the right foot.
- Move slowly up and around the body, squeezing one body part at a time to create tension, immediately followed by the contrasting sensation of release and ease. Follow each part with a deep, cleansing breath. Here’s a sample progression you can follow:
Right foot, left foot
Right ankle and calf, left ankle and calf
Right knee, left knee
Right thigh, left thigh
All feet and legs
Entire lower body, from tummy down
Chest and heart
Right arm, left arm
Right hand, left hand
Whole body at once (do this one twice)
When you’re finished guiding your child through the relaxation technique, make sure they spend at least a few minutes in quiet, encouraging them to keep their breathing slow and steady.
Happy Breathing! As always, reach out if you would like to know about meditative practices for your child, teen, or yourself.
Kodie (Smiling Fox)