It is never too early to begin to teach children mindfulness and meditative practices that can help them for a lifetime. Research shows that mindfulness can help children with focus, anxiety, and academic learning. Meanwhile, meditation can help with self-calming, handling stress, and soothing inner fears about challenges at home, in school, or in the community. Children who learn to practice these brain-supportive strategies have a bigger and better toolbox for handling some of the challenges that life is sure to throw their way. Mindfulness and meditation are particularly helpful for children who are dysregulated, such as children with attachment disorder, such as Reactive Attachment Disorder RAD or Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder DSED. Children with disabilities can also benefit from the brain boost provided by mindfulness practices and meditation.
Teaching mindfulness can be fun with little children. They are so excited about fantasy and imagery. One of my favorite ways to teach mindfulness and meditation is to talk about a candle. The candle is a pure white light that flickers any color they would like to imagine in their minds. If they notice a thought about anything other than the candle, the children can just fly the "other thought" right into the flame where it ... and here is where it gets exciting ... the children can make the thought burst into flames, turn into fireworks, disappear, burst like a bubble ... the child gets to make up the details. Over time, the child may find some favorite ways to imaging that unwanted thoughts disappear from the mind, as mental focus is once again returned to the flame. This is only one of many ways to introduce the concept of meditation to children.
Another favorite way of introducing meditation and mindfulness is to have children imagine their minds like an ocean. As they notice busy thoughts in their minds, the water is like a churning sea full of tall waves. As the children begin to focus on calming the ocean in their minds, the waves begin to calm into the ocean turns into a shiny flat watery surface that is like a mirror. When children feel a wayward thought introduce on the image of the smooth shiny glass ocean, they can see the thought slip out of the scene just like a person slips on ice; or envision a large whale of shark jump out of the shiny watery surface to snap up the thought in its mouth and return under the water ... or a myriad other possibilities.
The breath is another theme that easily translates for teaching meditation and mindfulness to children. They can imagine their breath like a wind that moves through a forest or field of flowers. Controlling the breath remains the focus, and children can imagine the wind of their breath moving unwanted thoughts out of the flower field or forest. Children can imagine little sparkles, fire flies, or dandelion puffs drifting across the sky as they feel positive emotions like peace or love during the meditative experience.
In schools, teachers can create quiet times that give the opportunity for settling down. Mindfulness sessions can be worked into the day as part of a rest period after a meal, when children can close their eyes and sit quietly in preparation for nap time. Or children may need to calm down after recess, and a meditation provides a way for them to calm busy minds in preparation for returning to academic classes.
A fun way to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into the children's day is to pair it with yoga. A children's favorite is teddy bear or animal yoga, which has whimsical names that add more fun to the practice of yoga. Children can naturally pair movement of the body with the movement of air with breath. Once they have mastered the breath and movement of yoga, they can easily add in elements of meditation and mindfulness.
An incredible benefit is that children who learn meditation and mindfulness tend to become better self-soothers, thinkers, and creative problem-solvers. Health benefits are even realized by adding in meditation, which can have a positive impact on the body's reaction to stress, ability to sleep, and immune function.
Parents, educators, and helping professionals looking for a great resource to promote mindfulness for children may enjoy "I Am Peace". One of Orchard Human Resources' book picks for the year, "I Am Peace" is child-friendly and highly effective in helping children embrace meditative and mindfulness practices. Here is a link to the book on Amazon:
Darleen Claire Wodzenski, MS ESE, MA CMHC, PhD Psychology of Orchard Human Services, Inc. and PNE Institute, LLC.
Dr. Darleen Claire Wodzenski promotes developmentally appropriate practices for children and families through our work with Orchard Human Services, Inc.. Parent and grandmother, she provides counseling, educational advocacy, and child development services in the Metro Atlanta area, including Alpharetta, College Park, Cumberland, Hiram, and Marietta. In her work as a child therapist, she uses many strategies like meditation and mindfulness to help children with with anxiety, stress, depression, developmental disorders, and heal from Reactive Attachment Disorder and others developmental disorders of attachment development. Read more about Dr. Darleen Claire at DarleenClaire.com or at OrchardHumanServices.org. She can be reached at 770-686-0894 or by email at D@OrchardHumanServices.org