Next Gen Zen: Teaching Your Kids Meditation to Improve Their Health
By Martha Michael
Like a lot of experiences as a parent, your actions and words can come back to haunt you when your “Mini-Me” adopts those actions and words as their own. There’s also an inherent pleasure in seeing your better qualities played out to the benefit of your kids. Many adults who use meditation for its mental and physical impact are sharing the practice with the next generation so parent and child can experience its calming effects and get an opportunity to bond.
Meditation for Children
Teaching kids to meditate is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to an article on HealthyChildren.org. There are various styles of practice, but it typically involves sitting in a quiet place with your eyes closed and your attention fixed on breath. Because sitting quietly can be difficult for kids, some programs use movement-based meditation, such as yoga.
In addition to emotional and spiritual benefits of meditation, kids can get a boost to their physical health, including:
- Calmer nervous system
- Reduction in stress hormones
- Fewer headaches
- Decrease in pain sensitivity
- Eliminating gastrointestinal symptoms
Studies show that meditation improves the executive function of kids’ brains, according to an article in Frontiers in Psychology. Researchers studied the effects of a mindfulness meditation practice on 7- to 8-year-old students at an Italian primary school. Three times per week for eight weeks, half of the kids took part in a mindfulness-oriented meditation (MOM) program while the other half practiced emotion awareness exercises with no meditation. They evaluated the children’s psychological dimensions, including their cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral processes.
Using the Child Behavior Checklist and the Conners Rating Scale, impact was measured through teacher questionnaires and the young subjects self-reporting their moods. Teachers reported seeing a reduction in attention problems among the meditation group.
Meditation for Teens
Between final exams, prom dates, and social status, adolescence can be a challenging time, both physically and emotionally. Meditation can help teens with stress and anxiety, says an article on the Cleveland Clinic website. The frontal lobe in a teenager’s brain doesn’t communicate perfectly with the amygdala, the survival mechanism in the medial temporal lobe. When the amygdala reacts to stress, it responds instinctively, sometimes triggering impulsive behavior. Meditation can strengthen that connection.
Mindfulness exercises improve concentration, providing a boost to a teen’s ability to complete homework, access memory for exams, and reduce blood pressure and heart rate from nerves. Meditation contributes to emotional balance and maximizes the immune system.
Sharing Your Practice With Your Kids
An article in Huffington Post suggests teaching meditation to children as a means to cope with the fast pace of life in many modern American families.
“It teaches us to be in the present moment so that we can savor the good times while better managing the trying ones,” the article says. “It helps us to stay connected with our true essence, building our sense of self-love and worth.”
Some schools have integrated mindfulness into their curriculum but there’s no reason why adults who meditate can’t share it with their kids for personal use. Here are some suggestions for passing it on.
Lead by example - If your child is going to view anything you recommend as important, you need to be a consistent practitioner yourself. When they see you exploring your meditation practice, it can incite their curiosity and a natural interest may build from there.
Bring it to their level - While being seated on the floor is physically attainable for them, there are elementary ways to help kids understand meditation. Reading a children’s book such as Peaceful Piggy is one way to explain the practice, or you can design a craft to make the concept tangible. Place sand in a jar and add water. Shake the jar and explain that the grains of sand represent our thoughts that swirl around wildly, but when the jar is still, the water becomes clear and calm.
Keep your expectations reasonable - Children are more likely to become interested in meditation if you make sessions short and enjoyable, not difficult like chores. There’s not a right or wrong way to teach them how to meditate. It’s like exercise -- it becomes a routine with repetition. You can reward them with a game afterward or find something else that’s motivating for your child.
Include a discussion of their emotions - Meditation is a mental health boost, in part, because it creates space for an honest look at feelings. You can share some of your own emotions by describing hurt feelings or examples of being scared. Even young children can learn to identify internal burdens and become skilled at processing them through discussion.
People of all ages deserve the chance to become grounded and find balance. Helping children establish a meditation practice enables them to reap the same benefits that many adults do from mindfulness exercises. When parents share the experience of meditation with their kids, they get the benefit of family bonding while also breathing new life into their own goals for the practice.
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