Meditation (or mindfulness practice) is a great way for anyone to start feeling more grounded and in the present moment. It teaches us to pay attention to the good things in life. It helps us stay connected, build our sense of self-worth and self-love. It teaches us to be aware of our bodies and our breathing, helps us practice being quiet and patient. Studies have shown that mindfulness also helps build concentration, increase focus, and boosts memory. It helps children relax in school, and encourages them to be themselves and help them face life with more confidence.
With children I’ve found that the best way to meditate is through guided meditation. The concepts of “watching your thoughts” and “clearing your mind” are a bit abstract and are difficult even for adults. But children love stories. Guided meditation allows you to lead a child on a sensory journey using the imagination. They can even be an active participant in the story telling.
One of my go-to scripts is a simple way to do a progressive muscle relaxation. The script, found here, walks you through several sensory activities using the imagination. You squeeze a lemon with your hands and relax, you stretch like a cat, you pretend you are a turtle. At the end you envision your toes in a mud puddle. It’s a fun way to get kids to get in touch with what it feels like to relax.
Another of my favorites is a track named Rainbow Walking (track 9) on the CD that comes with the Ready . . . Set . . . R.E.L.A.X.: A Research-Based Program of Relaxation, Learning, and Self-Esteem for Children. It walks you along a rainbow, and as you step on each color you think about items that are that color. There is another track on the same CD, called Rolling Waves that is also a great guide for children.
My favorite way to walk a child through a guided meditation is an off-the-cuff story. First, everyone sits comfortably, at a table or on the floor. You begin by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. The guide for the story will start and set the scene. The children can take turns telling a piece of the story. You may want to set some ground rules before you start the meditation, such as No Violence, No Talking while someone else is talking, No Put Downs, etc.
Here’s an example:
“Imagine you are walking down a road. It is a dirt road. With your eyes closed, look around you. The road you are walking on is very soft and there are trees on both sides of you. The sky is a beautiful blue and the sun is shining. A very good friend is walking next to you and you are both smiling, because you have just told a very funny joke. As you are walking you see something in the middle of the road. You can’t tell what it is just yet, you walk closer. As you get closer you can start to make out its shape. Alex, can you tell us what they see? (Let Alex talk a little bit about the object and then gently let him know it is your turn again. Simply pick up on the story where he left off.) That’s great Alex, it is a treasure box filled with candy. You and your friend walk over to the box and look closely. There are all kinds of candies inside. You pick one out to look at it even closer. Jennie, what candy are you looking at?”
And just follow the story as the children guide you. There will be some ridiculous, far-fetched and sometimes very silly answers. That’s just fine. Play along and help guide the story to allow for another opportunity for the children to participate. Make sure you keep an eye on the children and begin to wrap it up when they begin to get too antsy. Lead the story back to a table where the kids can start wiggling their fingers and toes, take a deep breath and open their eyes.
An off-the-cuff story can also be used in a more intentional way. If, for example, you are working with a child who is anxious about being sick, or about how they are doing in school, you can guide the story in a way that the characters in the story find someone going through a similar situation. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you keep the story light and happy and in the end, a solution is found. It is especially clever if the child comes up with a silly solution that makes them laugh. For instance, maybe in the story about a boy with test anxiety he invents a pen that downloads all of the answers from his brain and writes it onto his paper so he doesn’t even have to think about it. Or maybe a dragon whispers the answers in his ears. Lots of giggles can be had over a previously stressful situation.
Have you had experience with children and meditation? What are your thoughts about the use of mindfulness techniques with our kids?