We all want happy, healthy lives for our children. Teaching kids how to meditate can give them a jump start to accessing the many benefits of meditation. Even though today’s kids exhibit elevated levels of restlessness, stress and anxiety, only 1.6% of children in the U.S. meditate. Yet several studies suggest that kids who practice mindfulness tend to develop positive traits such as increased self-control, better attentiveness in class, and more empathy and respect for others. In addition, meditation may help children manage challenging conditions such as stress, depression, ADHD and hyperactivity.
Clearly, introducing kids to mindfulness can benefit them now and in the long run. But children should never be forced to meditate, or they may develop the same aversion towards sitting that they often have towards certain cooked vegetables (!). They should be given the same gentle encouragement that we give ourselves when it comes to meditation practice.
Did you know that it’s easy for children to learn mindfulness? Many kids have a natural feel for it. Young kids aren’t burdened by as many biases, barriers or preconceptions, which gives them an edge when it comes to non-judgmental awareness.
While there hasn’t been as much general research about the effects of mindfulness on kids as on adults, meditation in the classroom has been getting a lot of attention lately. One flagship initiative is the Compassionate Schools Project taking place in elementary and secondary public schools in Louisville, Kentucky, and impacting some 20,000 kids. With a stated goal of “Educating the Whole Child,” the curriculum “integrates mindfulness for stress management and self-control; contemplative movements, postures and breathing for physical awareness and agility; nutritional knowledge for healthy eating; and social and emotional skills for effective interpersonal relationships.”
Elsewhere, some schools are experimenting with replacing detention time with meditation. A pilot study within the San Francisco school system, partnered with the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education, convinced even skeptics that the effort to provide mindfulness training to kids, including in one of SF’s poorest school districts, was well worth it. Over a four-year period, suspensions reportedly decreased by over 70%, academic performance increased, and everyone was happy about it. The switch to meditation is already offering similar results in a number of North American schools: maximum benefits at minimal cost.
Here are a few of the benefits of children’s meditation
- Enhanced focus
In just a generation or two, things have changed so much that our attention spans can’t keep up. Between social media and technological gadgets, kids – and adults - are constantly surfing the internet, interacting via social media and playing video games indoors instead of reading a book, taking a walk or playing sports. Children who grow up with their noses in their devices often find it difficult to focus and remain attentive. Meditation teaches them that it’s possible to direct their attention at one thing at a time, and that it actually feels great not to be distracted.
- Fostering compassion and self-esteem
Due to pressures and circumstances beyond their control (and sometimes beyond anyone’s control), kids may sometimes feel like they’re not able to pass muster. This can be tough sometimes, especially when a child is bullied or badly teased by others. Most of the insecurities people have as adults can be traced back to their childhoods. The good news is that meditation can bolster children’s feelings of security, empathy and inner stability, and this, in turn, builds compassion, joy and self-esteem. Meditation teaches kids - and adults - that right now is enough.
- Boosting confidence
Mindfulness for children helps kids gain self-awareness and become more confident. The confidence develops naturally when kids learn from their meditation practice that they don’t have to react to all of their thoughts and emotions – they can choose which ones merit their attention and response. Confident kids are better equipped to deal with unfamiliar situations. Thanks to this adaptability, they become better problem solvers and develop a deeper appreciation of life.
- Building empathy and happiness
Mindworks meditation expert Trungram Gyalwa says that the more you give to those around you, the more you gain. Children’s meditation helps them learn how to share their love with other children. They become more patient and understanding, listen more readily to others and empathize with them. One study cited in Slate Magazine “looked at the effectiveness of the Mindful Schools program on around 400 low-income, mostly minority elementary-school students. It found that after five weeks of regular mindfulness sessions, teachers reported that students became more focused, participatory, and caring.” Clearly, mindful children have the tools they need to be happy children. For more information, check out our post Beginner's Guide to Meditation.
Isn’t it time you introduced your kids to children’s meditation? The Mindworks: Guided Meditation App offers valuable resources for you and your kids, with inspirational Daily Cup contemplations, talks, guided meditations and more.