Today, many are looking to meditation for some peace and balance in their hectic and fast-paced lives. We are not the only ones being affected by the sheer speed of modern life. An increasing amount of children have been showing elevated signs of stress, restlessness, and anxiety starting at a very early age.
The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) published a study that showed an estimated two million more children in the U.S. were diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) between 2003 and 2012 and one million more children were taking medication for it! What’s more concerning is – most of the diagnosis’ started before the age of six.
A study done at the National Therapies Research Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney Australia, showed significant improvements in ADHD symptoms with children who were taught to meditate. The children reportedly had improved attention spans and were less hyperactive.
Other encouraging side effects listed were improved relationships with their parents and a better sense of self-esteem. Additionally, 50% of the children that were on medication either reduced or stopped their medication completely but still continued to improve their symptoms through a meditation practice.
Here are some meditation techniques and tips (that have worked with my 3, 5, and 7-year-old). Exposing our children to these ancient techniques, could help them to cope better with stress, live healthier lives, and spread peace on earth!
Be the Change
Children are prone to copying the behavior of their parents – so, lead by example. When your kids observe you in meditation, it sets a tone that children can learn to vibe with. When I am sitting in meditation in the morning, my children wake up and come sit quietly with me (either on my lap or nearby). This silence is mediation in itself – which brings me to the next technique.
My kids and I have certain days dedicated to silence. Sometimes it only ends up being for half the day (or a couple of hours)- but, it’s a few hours of pure bliss!
You can make it into a game – who can be the quietest? It should be fun for them (this isn’t meditation boot camp). This is a practice in mindfulness. I also suggest to them that when we do break the silence – the words that we speak should be ones of love, kindness, and good intent. Start Off Short and Simple.
Many experts recommend one minute of meditation per year of age, starting at around age eight. I say, if our kids are being diagnosed with ADHD before the age of 6 – we need to start earlier. (Note: My daughter, who just turned 3, typically stays comfortably in mediation longer than her older siblings).
Pranayama (Breathing Exercises)
Breath is connected to prana (life-force energy) and oxygenates every cell in our body. I was once told (by a well-known yoga instructor) that simply teaching our children to breathe deeply, in and out through their nose, could prevent up to 90% of childhood illnesses. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know. What I do know is that pranayama has been one of the most important tools for my kids wellbeing (as well as my own sanity). It helps them when they are about to burst into a crying fit or when they are too excited to express themselves clearly. All I have to say is, “Let’s breathe”, and they know exactly what to do. Here are a list of breathing techniques that are a favorite among my kids:
- Ujjayi (Victorious breath) – Explore practicing the “deep ocean sound” at the back of the throat ,while taking deep belly breaths. It truly calms and settles their energy.
- Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breath) – This is said to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain – leading to better cognitive development. I started them off with a simpler version where they hold one nostril and breathe in and out, then switch sides. (When my daughter turned 4, she was able to do the advanced version.)
- Kapalabhati (Shining breath) – They have fun watching their bellies as they push the air out of their mouths while drawing their abdomen in at the same time.
There’s nothing like doing yoga as a family. Sun Salutations are a fun and a generally easy form of yoga to practice together. These 12 postures (or poses) are said to keep the nadis (energy channels of the body) open and flowing properly, preventing a host of diseases.
Yoga is a moving meditation, the focus is on the practice itself, breathing, and the asanas (postures). Make sure they are breathing fluidly during the whole practice.
- Yoga asanas are traditionally a preparation for meditation. At the end of class, spend some good time lying in savasana. This is a great way to sneak in meditation because they are so physically tired from the workout, that lying down in stillness actually sounds like a good idea.
- Make time for your own yoga practice. This is a class for your kids, right? Going super deep into a pose can be challenging if your wee-ones are crawling through your legs while you’re in downward dog.
Sing and Chant Together Using Mantras
Kids love to sing – period. Chanting improves focus and concentration and has powerful effects on brain development. Here are a few of my go-to mantras and tips to make the most of the experience:
- The Gayatri manta has 24 syllables, each of which are connected to a different part of the brain. It has been used to enhance intelligence and intuition. It’s also a beautiful song and a great exercise for memory.
- OM – It’s the sound of the universe and divine intelligence – let’s connect with that! Allow your little ones to play with the tone and volume of their OM’s and go at their own pace. (The outcome can range from a strange and harmonious choir to the sound of different animals howling the jungle, in short, it’s fun.)
- Chakra Toning – Hang up a chart or painting of the chakras (the body’s seven major energy centers). Point to the chakra and have them imagine the color in that area of their body. Have them chant the mantra associated with that chakra. You can also just make similar sounds that the vowels make, as in- uh, ooo, oh, ah, eye, aye, and, eee. Inhale and stretch the sound for as long as you can on the exhale. Both variations work.
- Pop in a CD of your favorite mantra music and sing along. Bring in rattles and drums to create an in-home kirtan!
- After toning or using mantras, ask them to keep their eyes closed for a while and notice how they feel. This is a powerful meditation tool that can help kids gain awareness of the effects of using mantras (and hopefully get them hooked!).
This is a great one as a bedtime routine. Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that brings your awareness to different areas of the body while lying in stillness. I like to put a little tweak on it for kids and have them imagine magical golden pixie dust is being poured or sprinkled on different areas of the body. It’s great for body awareness and gives their minds something to focus on. It’s super relaxing and makes for great dreams!
Besides the vast array of health benefits that massage provides, this is one of the most awesome ways to get your kids to LOVE meditation. It not only creates body awareness, but also provides a space for a deep loving connection between you and your child. Ask them to speak up and tell you what areas feel good being massaged (more than likely, it will be their feet, hands, head, and face, as most of us do). I recommend using an organic coconut oil.
There are so many ways to incorporate meditation into your kids lives. Get creative.
- Prepare a meditation space. Explore in nature and have your child pick a stone (earth), fill a cup with water, burn a candle (fire), and use something like a feather to represent the air element. Put the elements in the center of the room. Kids get really into this and they somehow inherently know this is creating a sacred space. Sit in a circle around the elements and begin your meditation.
- Have them gaze at a burning candle for a period of time, this can be a meditation practice in focus and discipline (fire is interesting enough that it can hold their attention).
- Play a game where you place a book on their head and see how slow and mindfully they can walk to the other side of the room.
The main goal here is not to force your children to meditate, but to get them intrigued, and accustomed to it. Make it a fun and positive experience throughout their childhood, so they are more likely to keep it as a practice as they grow.
Meditation is being prescribed more and more for a balanced, healthy, and happy life. So, instead of medication, try meditation to for your child’s wellbeing.