When you picture someone practicing meditation, the person you imagine is almost certainly an adult. Meditation and mindfulness have long been seen as adult practices in the West, though the recent explosion of yoga classes for children suggests that might be changing.
Like adults, many children suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression, and they also stand to benefit from a meditation practice. Children who meditate can experience many of the same benefits as adults, including heightened self-awareness and self-regulation, improved attention and focus, and reduced stress and tension. Learning to meditate at an early age can also support children’s emotional, mental, and intellectual development.
If you’re a parent wanting to raise your child with a meditation practice, follow these five steps to start teaching them.
1. Expose your child to meditation.
Setting the example you want your children to follow is key in nearly any aspect of parenting, and meditation is no different. Children are always watching their parents, and if they’re aware of your own meditation practice, they’ll likely be curious about it and want to copy you.
Beyond exposing your child to your own practice, take some time to talk to them about it. Have a conversation about what meditation is and why you practice. You can also share with them how meditation might affect them and why you think they’ll like it.
2. Start with short meditations.
The idea of sitting quietly and being still might not appeal to your child, so it’s a good idea to start with short meditations. Some experts suggest one minute for each year of your child’s age – so if they’re nine years old, start by meditating for nine minutes at a time. If that doesn’t go well, you can even start smaller, with just a minute or two.
3. Consider using mantras or breathwork exercises.
Teaching your child mantras to repeat or breathwork exercises to do while they’re meditating might help keep them more interested and engaged in the practice, especially if they’re struggling with sitting still.
The following breathing techniques are all good options for children: making inhales and exhales the same length, lifting the shoulders to the ears on the inhales and releasing them on the exhales, closing one nostril and taking a few breaths only through the other one (repeating on both sides), and making the “ocean sound” in the back of the throat for an Ujjayi breath.
Repeating mantras is another way to help your child focus during meditation, and you can teach them short mantras in Sanskrit or longer ones in English. Chanting will also probably appeal to your child if they like singing and music. You could start with chanting the sound of “om” a few times, or teach them a longer mantra that’s meaningful to you.
4. Incorporate it into other activities.
Beyond the more formal exercises, show your child that meditation is about more than sitting still with their eyes closed. Encourage them to practice mindfulness during other activities they do on a regular basis. For example, ask your child to notice the things around them during a walk or to feel the grass beneath them while playing outside.
5. Download a child-friendly app.
Once you’ve introduced your child to the basics of meditation, consider downloading a child-friendly meditation app for them to use on their own. Most kids love using smartphones and tablets, so this is another good way to keep them engaged with the practice. The popular Headspace app has a children’s version, or the Scape app allows them to create their own ambient sound to play during meditation. There are plenty of other apps to choose from as well, all encouraging meditation and mindfulness in different ways.
Regardless of which meditation techniques you choose to teach your child, starting early can help them reap the most benefits from the practice – and it creates a new way for you to bond with your child, no matter their age.