In my last post, I wrote about why I started teaching my kids to meditate. In this post, I’ll share how I taught them, and what I did when they lost interest.
I want to start out by saying that I don’t think formal meditation is the best way to teach mindfulness to young children. Kids often do better with concrete, fun activities, especially when they can move their bodies. (I’ve shared over 100 different ways to teach mindfulness to children in my book, Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.)
Having said that, my girls (ages 7 & 9) wanted to meditate with me, so I decided to give it a shot. I meditate sitting on a cushion on the floor, and the girls each have a cushion as well. They brought their cushions in, and I taught them how to sit comfortably. I reminded them how to do a basic breathing meditation, and then we pulled out my smartphone and launched the Insight Timer app. I let them each choose a bell tone they preferred, one to start the meditation, and one to end it.
(I’ve shared the instructions I used with my daughters at the end of this post. Feel free to modify them and use them with your own kids!)
We set the timer for three minutes (start small, people!), got comfortable, and started the meditation. The girls sat perfectly still and breathed slowly and carefully the entire time.
HA! Just kidding! You didn’t really believe that, did you?
They fidgeted and whispered and huffed and rolled around. Each time I found myself distracted by their noise or movement, I noticed that distraction and then brought my attention back to my breath. When the final bell rang, we sat and listened to the fading sound until we could no longer hear it. I asked them if they had any questions or thoughts, and while they didn’t have any brilliant insights, they did note that they might want to meditate lying down next time. I didn’t reprimand them for being so fidgety, and I didn’t tell them they should do it better. I just thanked them for meditating with me, and that was it.
This little routine lasted for about three days, and then they both lost interest. I invited them to join me for a few more days, they refused, so I let it go. They know I still meditate, and they know they can join me any time, but I’m not pushing it.
Yes, of course I want them to meditate, but I also know from my experience as both a mother and a child that pushing your kids to do something can backfire. Bigtime. So I’m going to keep doing what I have been doing all along: practicing mindfulness, meditating, and sharing it with the girls through books, stories, and a variety of other games and activities.
When they’re ready to rejoin me, they will.
How to Sit in Meditation:
There are four basic body positions for practicing mindfulness meditation: sitting down, lying down, standing up, or walking. For beginning meditators, I generally suggest sitting down or lying down. If you want to sit, you can sit on a cushion or on a chair.
Whatever position you choose, you want to be comfortable and stable, otherwise it will be hard for you to get calm and focused. If you’re sitting on a cushion, make sure you have 3 body parts touching the floor: your tushy and both knees. If you can sit cross-legged on the cushion and you are flexible enough to have your knees on the ground (I can’t!), that’s great. If not, you can put another cushion or a folded blanket under each knee for support, or you can try the modified kneeling position described in #5 in this article. (That’s how I sit.)
From there, you want to sit up straight. You don’t have to sit up so hard that your back and neck hurt, but you don’t want to slouch either. When you keep your back straight, it sends a message to your mind and body that what you’re doing is important.
You can keep your eyes open or closed. If you keep them open, find a spot on the floor in front of you and try to rest your eyes on it. That means you don’t have to stare hard at it, just let your eyes rest on it. You can rest your hands on your legs, or in your lap.
Basic Breathing Meditation (for Grownups and Kids):
Start by taking a couple of deep breaths. When you take those breaths, notice where you feel them most easily. Do you notice the air moving in and out of your nose? Do you feel it in your chest? Or do you notice your belly getting bigger and smaller? There’s no right or wrong answer here; what matters is that you find the place in your body where it’s easiest to feel your breath.
From there, let your breathing settle into your normal routine. You don’t need to force, hold, or lengthen your breath. Just breathe, and notice the feeling of your breath moving in and out of your body. When your mind wanders (as it will!), notice the wandering and then return to your breathing. Don’t stress when you find yourself thinking; that’s just your mind doing what it was made to do. The goal is not to stay perfectly focused on your breath, the goal is to notice your mind’s wanderings over and over again, and then choose to come back to your breath, over and over again.
You may want to start with shorter sessions, perhaps five minutes long. As I mentioned above, I use the Insight Timer app; it’s got several lovely bell tones to choose from and you can keep track of your meditation sessions with it. As you get more comfortable with the experience, you can lengthen the sessions.
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