Teaching meditation to children helps them to cope with stress, deal with difficult emotions, and calm their body and mind.
Establishing a quiet, special place in your home where you and your child can meditate or practice mindfulness together will help to develop a daily ritual and can also serve as a peaceful place for them to go when they feel overwhelmed or need to reset.
As you teach your child about the importance of connecting with their breath, consider alternating between indoor and outdoor exercises to demonstrate how mindfulness can be used anywhere, in any situation. This can also help to maintain your child’s interest and keep activities fun.
When introducing a more formal practice of meditation (seated, with a focus on breath awareness) use their age as a reference point to determine how long you should encourage them to participate (for example, try meditating with your 9-year old for 9 minutes). Also consider involving your entire family in an effort to create space for overall mindful communication.
Teaching Meditation to Children through Indoor Activities:
- Cultivate mindfulness with sound: This exercise uses a singing bowl, bell or gong that creates a vibrational sound. Have your child close their eyes as you play the instrument, allowing them to focus on the sounds they hear. When you stop playing, have them raise their hand when they no longer hear the lingering vibration.
- Introduce a “Mindful Friend”: Mindful Friends can range from a favorite toy to a pet that will sit quietly with your child without distraction. If you’re using a toy, have your child lie flat on their back and close their eyes. Place the toy on their belly and tell them to focus on the sensation of the toy rising and falling with their breath. If you’re using a pet, have your child close their eyes and lie down next to the animal. Have them place one hand on their belly and one hand on their pet. As they experience their own belly rising and falling, see if they can feel their pet breathing as well. Have them focus on their experience for one minute.
- Count breaths: With closed eyes, have your child count their breaths to match their age. If your child is 8 years old, have them count out 8 full breaths (a deep inhalation and exhalation is a count of one). Repeat for one minute.
- Incorporate a hand mantra: The “peace begins with me” hand mantra helps to enhance focus. Using both hands, have your child touch their thumbs and index fingers together, saying “peace” as they do this. Have your child touch their thumbs and third fingers together, saying “begins“. Have your child touch their thumbs and fourth fingers together, saying “with“. Have your child touch their thumbs and little fingers together, saying “me“. Repeat for one minute.
- Encourage body awareness: Have your child lie flat on their back and close their eyes. Encourage them to take three deep breaths in and out of their nose. Draw their attention to their toes and have them wiggle their toes and tighten the muscles in their toes, and then release the muscles. Have them wiggle their feet and tighten the muscles in their feet, and then release. Move on to the legs, stomach, chest, fingers, hands, arms, neck and face. You can do this to greet their body first thing in the morning when they wake up or to say goodnight to their body before bed.
Teaching Meditation to Children through Outdoor activities:
- Develop sensory awareness: In your own backyard or at a nearby park, have your child close their eyes and listen for one minute to all the sounds they hear. Then have them focus on any smells, and finally on what they feel (perhaps their shoes touching the soft grass, or the wind on their face). When you tell them to open their eyes, have them recount every sensory experience they can recall. You can also share what you experienced while your eyes were open.
- Learn the “Zombie Walk”: This exercise is a variation on mindful walking, but adds a layer of imagination to the concept. Have your child walk like a zombie, slowly picking up their feet, moving their arms carefully in front of them to balance their body. Have them focus on the sensation of their shoes making contact with the ground and encourage them to move as leisurely as possible. Tell them to focus entirely on how their body feels as they walk towards a specific tree or area. Challenge them to move even slower the next time they “zombie walk”: even timing them if it adds to the fun. Alternatively, have your child imagine they are a snowman, slowly melting in the hot sun. See how long they can melt, encouraging them to move down to the ground as carefully as possible.
- Dance party stress release: Have your child dance wildly with you, allowing them to jump up and down or move their legs and arms like noodles. Eventually lie down on the ground and have them join you. Close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths together. Have them lie next to you silently for a full minute, encouraging them to focus on their breath. Tell them to observe what changes are happening in their body: how their muscles are relaxing after dancing, how their breathing is settling, how their mind is releasing. Observing the transition from an energized to a quiet state helps to explain the concept of what meditation is trying to accomplish.
Teaching Meditation to Children through Crafts:
- Snow globe meditation: This can be a great way to calm your child during the excitement of the holidays. Describe how the snow globe represents the many swirling thoughts in their mind. Shake the globe and have them focus all of their attention on the snow as it begins to settle in the globe. Have them notice their breath while they watch the snow fall. Consider making your own mindful snow or glitter globe together to personalize the activity. These are called “mind jars”.
- Let the balloon go: Have your child draw a big balloon on a piece of paper using their favorite colors. Inside the balloon, have them (or help them) write anything that they want to let go: a sad thought or stressful experience, something they can’t control, a difficult emotion or feeling. When they have finished, tell them to close their eyes and take a deep breath in through their nose and out of their mouth, as if they are blowing up the balloon they just drew. Encourage them to continue to breathe deeply: on every exhalation more air is filling the balloon. Describe how it gets bigger with every breath, full of the thoughts or emotions they no longer need. Finally, walk them through a visualization of releasing the balloon they drew into the sky. Describe how it floats away and then bring them back to the experience of breath in their body.
Alyssa is a MMI Certified Meditation & Mindfulness Instructor, having completed her 200-hour teacher training through the McLean Meditation Institute, which focuses on the neuroscience, theory, practice and teaching of meditation. She holds three years of teaching experience, leading weekly sessions with private clients, bi-weekly studio classes (yoga nidra and breathwork), and presentations for corporate clients. Browse her collection of recorded guided meditations here.