Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
“Meditation teaches you to be peaceful, to remove stress, to receive answers where confusion previously reigned.” ~ Wayne Dyer
I like to meditate. Do you think this is something worth teaching my daughter? Thanks. — Meditating Mama, Duluth
Dear Meditating Mama,
It’s September and back-to-school! Why not give your spirited kids a head-start this school year by teaching them how to meditate!
All kids should enjoy school, but according to the latest report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “one in three kids don’t.” Of course, unless you learn easily, thrive in loud, social environments and excel on the sports field, school can be challenging. As for those kids who have a hard time sitting still, who struggle with learning and tests, or who need quiet time and space, school life can be stressful to say the least.
Concerned mom Nicole agrees. “My young son John gets anxious around kids who have high energy, and withdraws when it’s too loud or busy in the classroom. His teacher is worried about how he will progress because he is ‘different’ and doesn’t dive in like the rest of the kids. My heart goes out to my son. Finding a tool to help John deal with his anxiety is my priority.” Fortunately, that’s where meditation can help.
Meditation is a relaxation technique that has been used for eons. Meditation was first mentioned in the Rig Veda, the earliest recorded literature of northern India, which was composed around 1000 BC. Meditation was taught by the Buddha as a key step on the path of enlightenment. It appeared in the fifth century BC in the Taoist work the Tao Te Ching, and is also referenced in the Old Testament. As author Shauna Shapiro (The Art of Science and Mindfulness) notes, “Some kind of meditative practice is found in all the world’s religions” [www.1hourmeditation.com].
Today, meditation isn’t just used as a spiritual tool; it’s used as a tool to promote mental and physical health too. That’s because the health benefits of meditation have been widely proven. In fact, more than 600 studies have been “conducted at over 250 universities and research centers and published in more than 100 journals” on the benefits of Transcendental Meditation alone [www.nantucketyogafestival.com]. The medical community agrees that meditation can “untangle tension, fight fatigue and even lower your blood pressure” [Arthritis Today]. Meditation is also used to manage chronic pain.
So what is meditation? In its most simplistic form, meditation is an exercise in mindful breathing. When we meditate, we focus our mind on an inspiring word or phrase (“I can do this!”) or on a positive image (a picture of Mother Mary) or a beautiful sound (think of waves breaking on the beach) while breathing slowly and deeply. The combination of a focused mind and focused breathing results in stillness and calm. It is that calm that can help kids at school manage their stress.
Jasmin, a fifth grader says, “I love school, but dread math class. I can’t do math no matter how hard I try. As soon as my teacher begins to hand out the test, I start to fidget. I worry about how I’ll do. Then my head hurts, my heart pounds and I just panic. Everything goes out of my head. Sometimes, I try to ask for help, but I can’t get the words out. My teacher doesn’t seem to understand what is going on for me. That makes it harder.”
When faced with an anxiety-provoking situation, Jasmin’s response is typical. “Our heart beats faster, we shallow breathe and we may start sweating” [www.findthelight.net]. Unfortunately, this adrenaline-powered response deprives the brain of the oxygen required to make thoughtful, logical decisions, which can make a bad situation worse. A kid dealing with anxiety at school may lash out verbally or physically (fight) or, like Jasmin, freeze or even leave the situation (flight).
By meditating, students who are upset, in crisis mode or who just need a little comfort, can move themselves into an emotionally stable place. Lifetime Fitness yoga teacher Ellie Feldman says, “Meditation is about using breathwork as a means to change our physiological responses to anxiety. What does that mean to a kid? They can breathe through their anger, fear or sadness which promotes peacefulness. Focusing on positive thoughts and feelings can change how kids think and feel to manage their situation and get out of paralysis or pain.”
Jasmin’s mom agrees. “I took my three children to Ellie’s yoga class where we practiced mindful breathing and positive thinking. It was noticeable how meditation helped relax my kids’ mind, body and spirit. I explained to Jasmin that she could use this approach at school when she had a test — and she did.”
For Jasmin, meditation proved life changing. “Meditation is very simple to use, even for a kid. The first time I used meditation before a test, I imagined eating coconut ice-cream, which is my favorite, while I took ten long, slow breaths. I actually felt calm and it made a huge difference. When I got my test back, I only had one question wrong. I was so surprised. I’d recommend other kids who get scared or upset at school, give meditation a try. It works!”
And Jasmin’s right. In fact, meditation works so well that some forward-thinking schools are prioritizing meditation in their curriculum. Top UK private school Tonbridge School implemented its Mindfulness Program two years ago. Designed by Oxford and Cambridge University psychologists, its aim was to make meditation a part of their students’ classroom experience to combat anxiety and develop concentration. As Prof. Mark Williams, director of the Mindfulness Centre at Oxford, notes, “There is scientific evidence that these practices are useful. So why deny them from being used?” Why indeed?
So, as you check through your spirited kids’ back-to-school list this fall, why not add meditation to the must-have’s this year. Check into your local YMCA or gym and sign up for a mother-daughter yoga and breathwork class, or grab your son, turn on that You Tube Mindfulness video, lie on the floor, relax, breathe and learn together. Meditation is medicinal. But, unlike most medicine we give to kids today, it’s easy to use, has no side effects and it might just change your child’s life! In my (school) book, that definitely deserves an A!
Want to teach your child about meditation? Try these Meditation ideas!
- “Yoga Pretzel’s flash cards offer 5 fun ways to engage your kids in using breath as means to change their physiological responses within their body,” recommends Lifetime Fitness Yoga Instructor Ellie Feldman. —www.amazon.com/Yoga-Pretzels-Cards-Tara-Guber/dp/1905236042
- Read Goldie Hawn’s book 10 Mindful Minutes, suggests Kathryn Oliver, Psy.D. Dr. Oliver uses this book to work with children who suffer from anxiety. Dr. Oliver notes, “It’s a really simple book with good, kid-friendly activities that teach kids how to use breathing to gain greater emotional control and Hawn quotes the psychology leaders in mindfulness.” — thehawnfoundation.org/goldie-hawns-10-mindful-minutes
- Turn that walk into a walking meditation, suggests Andrea J. Cohen, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver. Have your kids walk slowly and silently while focusing on their body to bring stillness to themselves — mind, body and spirit.
- Think big and breathe slowly at the beginning and end of each day. Have your spirited kid practice breathwork while they walk themselves through their coming day, and imagine it going well. This exercise will help them create feelings of calmness while manifesting the day ahead that they want.
Other Resources on Meditation and Youths:
- Common Problems Faced by Parents When Raising Teenage Boys (eHow.com) — www.ehow.com/info_8008591_common-parents-raising-teenage-boys.html
- How to Discipline a Child According to Age — www.wikihow.com/Discipline-a-Child-According-to-Age
- Managing Anxiety in Children, by Susan Carter, Ph.D., LP — www.lianalowenstein.com/article_carter.pdf
- How to Meditate — www.the-guided-meditation-site.com/how-to-meditate.html