As adults we know how beneficial it is to meditate, helping with physical, mental and emotional issues. If we had learned about meditation as children, many of us may be better able to cope with daily life. Mental health was never given attention 20 years ago as it is today. Things are changing, thankfully. Now we need to teach our children, to give them the tools most of us never had in our early years.
The question is…
How do you gain young people’s interest in mediation? How in the world can preschool children sit long enough to meditate in the first place?
Much of what I have found from years of teaching is voice and tone make a difference. It’s all in the delivery. This is the first step in gaining interest. “Guess what?…” or in a whisper “You won’t believe who came to see me…” or “When I closed my eyes…” are only a few of the opening lines I’ve used when conducting a meditation. Now, I am reminded to meditate by my preschoolers. They are ready and waiting to begin!
After the voice and tone are set, how do you garner interest from a 3 year old? School age children will take a different approach, more conversational directed towards emotions, stress, anxiety, etc.
Step 1:Find a common interest between you and the child(ren). The most common and universal interest for children, preschoolers and school age most often, is wildlife. Many families have pets in the home. And for those who don’t, often the child has the desire for a pet. Children may have a favourite stuffed animal, watch a particular show with animals, and so on. Bring the stuffed animal into the meditation, have it participate. Animals are part of nature, meditate in nature. Wildlife may come to them when they meditate and tell them things they need to know. This is one of the ways I teach children to listen to their hearts, or in adult language, listen to their intuition/instincts. By introducing a wild animal, cool and exciting for children, they are eager to see who visits them. Several of my preschoolers have seen wild animals, even mentioning those we had yet to discuss. This tells me they were drawn to the animal and that it did enter their thoughts.
Step 2: Ask why we meditate. This opens up the conversation, allowing you a starting place. Have they practiced meditation before? What do they know about meditating? What can it do? How does it help our bodies? There may be several answers, there may be none. Always find a positive way to acknowledge their contribution. Children like to know they are right, it helps build their confidence, public speaking, and group participation. They may have a reason why we meditate that didn’t occur to you!
Step 3: Explain why we meditate, in their language! School age children are able to understand adult words such as intuition, instinct, energy, clearing, etc. These concepts are more difficult for the preschool child, although there are some children who are quite advanced for their years. “To get the yuckies out of our heads, to get the yuckies out of our tummies, so we can hear our hearts talk to us, so we can hear our tummies talk to us, to calm our bodies, so the animals can come to us“, these are the exact phrases my preschoolers have used in the past, words they understand. We review why every day and they know their hearts will talk to them when the yuckies are out of their bodies. A great concept for them to grasp as meditating will be of great benefit when they get older.
Step 4: Be prepared to clarify. Example: Yuckies in my body. Children can understand yuckies, but in their bodies? How do they get there? Will I get sick? Yuckies come from pollution, and from there gently explain pollution from cars, foods, and thoughts that make them sad. Again, their language.
Step 5: Set the mood. Close the curtains/blinds. Choose the appropriate music. One of our favourite sounds is Dolphins and Whales. Another is crickets. There are hundreds of sounds and meditation music, experiment, and always ask the child’s opinion. Our latest favourite is the lotus flower. This is a meditation with hand movements, the opening and closing of the lotus flower.
Step 6: Find a comfortable space/position. Have them close their eyes, cross their legs and listen to the music. Sometimes it is difficult for children to keep their eyes closed so they know they can put their hands over their eyes. Some of the children have went from crossing their legs to sitting forward on their knees, head to the floor. And if there is space, they lay on their stomachs or back. Ensure the child is comfortable.
End the meditation by asking them to share their thoughts, what or who came to them. There may not be any answer or there may be several. Always gauge the room/class/child and see if they want to share. Some may, some may not. Never push or give your thoughts, let them say what they like.
An amazing thing happened before meditation one day when we were discussing why we meditate. One little boy said that when our hearts are happy, we can help the mean people’s hearts be happy too. We, the teachers, were stunned. A 3 year old child was able to understand that by having a happy heart, they would be able to help those who didn’t. Miraculous!
Another day during meditation, one of the children had his eyes closed and was swaying back and forth moving his hands in the motion of in and out in front of his body. Was he subconsciously clearing the negative energy from his body? Was he listening to his intuition? My belief is yes, he was. Children at this young age act without thinking and are more likely to follow their instincts without knowing that is what they are doing.
Remember to make it fun. Children will request meditation and perhaps teach you things you need to know!
Michelle Boomer is a veteran day care teacher and Young Yoga Masters certified Children’s yoga teacher. She has dedicated close to 2 decades of educating young minds in nature literacy and physical and mental health.