Meditation and kids, an unlikely positive pairing
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
Kids Mindfulness is a weekly Early Intervention group therapy program for children aged 5-12 years. A combination of CBT and Mindfulness. Teaching kids to self regulate emotions, self soothe and self manage stress. Practicing principles of Kindness, compassion, gratitude, acceptance, non judgment, impermanence and letting go. A mix of hands on Meditation, breath focus, mindful movement and games, story telling and age appropriate mindfulness education.
”Meditation works as a stress management tool by switching off the fight or flight response to stress and allowing the body to switch on the relaxation response. When children meditate, they become less reactive to stress.”
Dr. Alina Olteanu
Back in mid 2018 when I came up with the idea of creating and running a Kids "relaxation" group, I could not have foreseen or imagined how helpful the practice of meditation would be for small children. In fact when most of us, and in particular parents of small children think about meditation for our kids, we would likely think "yeh right, as if my child is going to lie still, quietly for 10 minutes
In meditation we sit (or lay) with stillness, allowing the mind and body to slow down, find calm, rest and rejuvenate. Meditation also builds patience, strength and stamina. Regular meditation practice assists us in our daily life off the mat, giving us the tools to be patient, calm, less reactive and to practice the pause when we encounter stress or are faced with challenges. These are such important skills for everyone, particularly children. Meditation can also provide us with comfort and incredible emotional and mental support.
In my Kids Mindfulness Group Program-which has now been running for almost 4 years-minus some breaks due to Covid lockdowns, we practice Mindfulness and meditation via a number of different exercises and activities. We engage in grounding techniques, mindful movement, games and other mindful activities such as craft, art and construction. My program also has a CBT/Mindfulness education component where children learn the theory behind thoughts, feelings, behaviour, along with gratitude, compassion and kindness practices. We engage in breathwork exercises, mantra meditation and single focused meditation with drishti items. But the highlight of the class believe it or not is what is termed "final meditation". This is a guided meditation that I read to the group. Children lie down and snuggle under their blanket in shavasana. Blinds are closed, eyes are closed and little wriggly bodies are still for the next 5-8 minutes. The meditation component of class is an opportunity for kids to slow down their busy minds, practice their stillness, calm and to listen and let go
It may be shocking to hear that children tell me EVERY single class "this is my favourite part" Added to this some children ask at the start of every class "When is final meditation?' "What is final meditation?" and "can we please do it now?" I have even had children ask if; one day can I please run a whole class of just final meditations!!!!! All of this is music to my ears. Little do my little zen masters know that they are also helping their future selves in so many ways, increasing their emotional intelligence and setting themselves up for success.
So what happens in final meditation? Essentially I am reading the children a scripted calming story. I may take them for a walk on the beach, into the magic garden, we may climb into their special treehouse or ride on a magic carpet or a comfy cloud. Some meditation scripts children are asked to imagine that they are a dragonfly or a lotus flower, a kitty cat or a butterfly. Children are asked to use their imagination and visualise. When I am reading the meditations to the class I can't help but recall being in grade 3 and lying on the floor after lunch and having the teacher read Enid Blyton's Wishing Chair or the Faraway Tree. Oh what bliss that was!!!
Watching their stillness is the highlight of the class. It’s like watching them come home. Some children are so relaxed that It is not uncommon for them to fall asleep. Hard to believe that over 50% of my Kids Mindfulness kids have parent reported attentional issues and reportedly display severe and difficult behaviours at school and/or home. And yes these are some of the children saying “Meditation is my favourite part”
Kids Mindfulness was initially aimed at children with Anxiety, mainly because this was my client group at the time. Over time the client group has evolved. Most intakes I now have around half of the kids with some sort of neurodiversity, such as ASD or ADHD. Kids Mindfulness is geared perfectly to help these kids. The small group environment is brilliant for confidence building and social skills building for ASD kids. And kids with ADHD, believe it or not, benefit immensely from our regular and consistent meditation and stillness practice. Conversely kids with ADHD can initially be a massive challenge in classes. The very nature of ADHD means that kids with these difficulties struggle to be still, to be calm and to listen. But with persistence, commitment, rules, boundaries, lots of positive reinforcement and encouragement along with of course kindness and compassion, I have watched these often incredibly hard to reach children little by little find their calm and their stillness. And with this has come reductions in opposition and impulsivity. My program has taught these children to slow down and be present in this moment, which in turn has slowed down their inner world and assisted them to be less reactive and more at peace. And yes as I said these are the kids now requesting meditation!!!! They love their meditation and they know it’s good for them. They settle their little bodies and just relax. This is such exciting news for me as a health professional, as I have worked for many years in my practice one on one with kids with ADHD with little to no success. This truly is innovative work.