Meditation for children: 8 reasons to start right now
We all want our kids to be happy and healthy, right?! But research tells us that right now, our children are actually more stressed than ever. They are living in a world that expects more of them than it ever has. And it shows. Difficulties like depression, anxiety, ADHD and behaviour problems are on the rise. Our children are struggling.
But meditation can help. And this Thursday May 21st is World Meditation Day. So what better time is there to talk about meditation for children (and its amazing benefits)?!
What are the benefits? Well, studies suggest that meditation can help children develop a range of pro social behaviours. Things like improved empathy, better self control, less aggression and improved attention. It’s also been found to help with difficulties such as anxiety, depression, stress, ADHD, and low self esteem. Sounds like the perfect antidote doesn’t it?!
Yeah. It is! So let’s talk about why your child should be meditating and how to get started.
Types of Meditation
But first, let’s dispel some meditation myths. Because I often hear people talking about their frustrations with meditation. They tell me things like, “I just can’t stop my thoughts!” Or, “I don’t know how to clear my mind!”
So here’s some good news. Meditation doesn’t require you to do either of those things. In fact, meditation is simply about awareness. It’s about noticing your thoughts, not trying to get rid of them all! And there are three main types of meditation that are suitable for kids.
1. Guided Meditation
Guided meditation for children involves an adult (or guide) using visualisation techniques to help kids imagine relaxing places or events. These visualisations often use images as well as smells, sounds or textures, to take the child on a journey via their own imagination. They may visit the beach, or a beautiful rainforest, or a lovely lush garden. They are taken out of the current moment and into another, more peaceful one, in order to relax their bodies and minds.
2. Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditation teaches children to repeat a word or phrase that helps them to relax and focus their attention. As they repeat their mantra, children are able to calm their body and mind. They then learn to replace thoughts that do not serve them in the moment, or that may cause them to react in unhelpful ways, with more helpful ones. These mantras can be spoken, chanted or sung and can help “train’ the brain to respond in a certain way.
Want to try some fun mantras with your kids during meditation? Check out our range of affirmation cards for kids here.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation teaches children to be fully present in the moment. This kind of meditation is about using the senses to pay attention to the environment as well as internal experiences like thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations within the body. Mindfulness meditation may involve a focus on the breath, or it may include movement, play, craft, music, yoga, or even everyday activities like hand washing or eating! Just about anything can be done mindfully.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness meditation, check out my Mindfulness Activity Book for Kids. It’s jam packed full of fun mindfulness exercises and meditations for kids aged 6-12.
But how does meditation work?
Studies show that meditation increases the density of grey matter in the brain and strengthens the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for reasoning, planning, problem solving and other important executive functions.
At the same time, meditation also shrinks the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for the stress response. This part of the brain is responsible for triggering our “fight or flight” response.
So when we strengthen the prefrontal cortex, or the “thinking brain”, we are better able to regulate our emotions, feel empathy, and are not as easily triggered by fears or stressors. A well developed prefrontal cortex helps us to be less emotionally reactive by physically making the emotional control centre of the brain smaller.
What does this mean for our kids? It means when we introduce them to meditation from a young age, we can help mould the actual physical structure of their young brains. We can set them up to be better learners. We give them skills to manage emotions, be more empathic, and protect them against stress. We are priming their brains to be less reactive. To cope better with difficulties. To be more aware. And to be more resilient.
Benefits of meditation for children
Now let’s get into the really good stuff – how can meditation help YOUR child? What changes will you see when you start a regular meditation practice with your kids?
1. Improved learning
Meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for thinking, organising, planning and reasoning. What does that mean? Meditation builds strong brains that learn more effectively!
2. Less stress
Meditation can help us lower our heart rate and respiration rate, switching off the stress response and lowering the levels of the stress hormone – cortisol – in our bodies. And as I mentioned above, it also strengthens the thinking area of our brain, while simultaneously shrinking the emotional area. This means that not only does meditation reduce your child’s stress while they’re engaged in it, it also makes their brains less reactive to stress in the long term too!
3. A stronger immune system
Stress makes us sick. Research shows that high levels of cortisol, the hormone released in our bodies when we experience stress, can weaken our immune systems over time, making us more susceptible to illness. Because meditation reduces cortisol, it also strengthens your child’s immune response!
4. Improved focus and concentration
Because meditation calms the stress response, it also allows for better focus and concentration. Stress and anxiety leave our emotional brains in control, which means thinking clearly and paying attention becomes difficult. A stressed brain is on high alert, focused only on finding danger. It is constantly scanning its environment, and has little capacity for anything else. But a calm brain can focus on the task at hand, whatever that may be.
5. Better self regulation skills
Meditation builds self awareness, which allows for self regulation. Once children are aware of their thoughts and feelings, they can use meditation to effectively manage them. Meditation teaches children to understand the link between their thoughts, feelings and actions. Once they are aware of the physical sensations associated with their emotions, they can put strategies in place to help them calm their bodies and minds so they respond confidently to those emotions, rather than lashing out reactively.
6. Healthy self esteem
Meditation can help children become more aware of their thinking. In particular, it allows them to observe their negative thoughts that impact how they feel about themselves. When children learn meditate, they are able to let these thoughts pass them by without engaging in them , or allowing them to change the way they view themselves. And the better thry become at this, the more their self esteem improves!
7. Better sleep
Meditating before bed can help children fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly. Because it calms and relaxes both the mind and body, it is the perfect preparation for a night of sweet dreams.
8. Improved resilience
Teaching children meditation skills from an early age, and practicing often, ensures they will carry these skills into adulthood. Meditation provides our children with a set of skills they can draw upon when they feel overwhelmed by big emotions, or stressed by difficult situations.
There are so many wonderful benefits of meditation for children and there’s really no excuse not to get started right away! Just take it slow, keep it short and remember to have fun! Your kids will love it (and so will you!).
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.