As a parent today, many of us struggle to find balance in our family life. Because of our own busy schedules, we try to compensate for the little time spent with the kids by activating them in our absence and when together, filling up the weekend diary. But how do our kids get to unplug from weeks filled with long days at school, activities and homework? Jolie Michelle Ow gives us an overlooked tool that won’t just benefit the kids, but the entire family.
“Our children can handle quiet time if we cultivate the proper conditions for them to thrive at creating inner peace and quiet.” – Tejal Patel
Our children’s brains are so often tired and children of all ages (adults too) really need opportunities where they can take some time out to pause for a moment, be “unplugged”, to relax and focus. In our present world with sensory overloads from school, family and internal pressures, children need this pause more than ever.
You’ll be surprised to find, that children are naturally more intuitive and spiritually connected than adults because they have not yet understood boundaries and limiting beliefs. Their bodies and minds are more open to lessons around them. They soak up what they see, hear and feel around them, so if we allow them this space for self-discovery and with the right guidance, repetition and encouragement, children are able to access into the meditative zone and share the most astounding words of wisdom from their experience.
There are many benefits to Meditation. Meditation helps to find calm and balance and to awaken awareness. It works as a powerful support for the children as it offers rest for the mind, body and spirit to help them focus on what matters, and function more effectively and clearly.
With practice and repetition, children can learn to “switch off” from constant stimulation, which prevents them from stress and anxiety. And mindfulness meditation does not just work through a deep relaxation practice, but also with focused attention on inside experiences that may heal the body, mind and heart.
Practising meditation has many physical, mental and spiritual benefits and also enhances social-emotional skills. Children who practice meditation have been proved to gain inner confidence and are able to show more empathy to one another and people’s feelings around them. They are more apt to able to speak up and express their needs, control their emotions and not destruct themselves or others subconsciously.
Mindful meditation, specifically, is gaining a foothold in stress reduction, disease prevention and treatment. Increasing numbers of studies are showing improved attention and behaviour. Some research has shown benefits for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behaviour problems, and eating disorders. Also, when U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan instituted The Skills for Life program in Ohio schools to teach deep breathing, meditation, and other problem-solving skills to elementary-aged children, they found that these practices helped children balance their emotions, cut down on bullying, and increased awareness.
Using meditation as a tool, have, as explained above, proven many great results, and the academic research also proves that meditation does not just make positive changes in the brain structure, but also the body, the immune system and blood circulation.
In 2017, Sarah Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, used the MRI technology to study the link of meditation and the brain. Sarah’s research showed that regular meditation practices resulted in changes in the brain structure and also that meditation may prevent age-related thinking of the frontal cortex that contributes to memory. This means that with regular mindful meditation, focus and attention can be trained, preventing dementia.
There’s recently been an increased interest in studying the link between mindfulness and the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex, the region associated with attention also showed changes in activity and/or structure in response to mindfulness meditation. For more info read this book by David Rock
But the research is all very well, how to incorporate this tool of magic is another thing. Being a facilitator for schools, families and corporations, the biggest challenge for meditation is not the practice itself, but the application of meditation into the daily lives.
When doing activities such as games, story-telling, music and other children-friendly mediums, parents and teachers often provide activities that children follow in order to keep them engaged. However, this means that there is less focus on the process and the connection between the teacher/parent and child. So how do we get a space for self-discovery – how can we spark wonder and nurture higher creativity?
What to focus on:
Firstly of all, try to avoid giving them what you think you know and have learnt from books or other resources. Let go of what you know or what others say, and be curious about what you may learn from a child. Get in touch with your own inner child.
Every child is unique and beautiful so it really doesn’t mean that one meditation will work the same for another child. When you are meditating with children, guide them through a sense of connection, try to create a bond that provides a sense of love and acceptance. This is an opportunity to understand each other’s needs and expectations.
I believe that meditation with children is more than relaxation. It allows everyone in the same room to ‘soften’ and watch what’s going on in a humbling, grateful and authentic manner. But in order to conduct an enjoyable meditation that connects and calms the little ones, you have to allow yourself to learn from these wise little ones through their lens.
Before you begin connecting with your child in meditation, turn off your digital device and be present for them. Devote at least 15 minutes. Meditation can be conducted anytime and anywhere, as long as both adults and children are present – there is no perfect, or peaceful place and time. Now, take a deep breath, and get ready to relax.
The simplest and most effective tool to connect with children is using the breath:
- Count the breath together.
- Direct the breath from the waist to the shoulders into the diaphragm for 1,2,3,4, hold for 1,2,3 and out for 6,5,4,3,2,1.
- Hold again, this for 1,2,3 before taking the next inhalation, and repeat for at least 8 rounds.
You may wish to learn more tips and steps in “How to Practice Deep Meditation” here.
Remember to enjoy the process and stay open and curious. The emphasis of meditation is to cultivate the heart of presence, so that we may integrate meditation into daily living.
Here are 3 keynotes to be mindful of.
Connect to the inner child
Listen to your child, do not make any assumptions and try to ask open-ended questions to get to know them. Understand their needs and desires, how do they wish to be held and respected. Don’t interrupt their thoughts and ideas, if you do not like or agree with what they say and don’t say NO. Try using different ways of offering alternatives so you may avoid hurting their emotions and give them space to choose the best option that is the right thing to do and it comes from their own choice. You are holding their space and guiding them to feel accepted and validated.
Discover the inner child
Explore happiness and allow yourself to see through their lens. Spark a child-like curiosity wonder and walk with them through the mindfulness exercises like you would if you were a good friend to them. Celebrate little things around the curious eye and the mind. Stay curious, and allow yourself to play. It’s deeply healing for adults to let the inner child come out to play!
Embrace the inner child
Do you have something you do not like or enjoy about your inner child? Learn to observe the kind of words you would use towards yourself because it will reflect on what you see with your child too. Recognizing kindness and compassion, noticing acts of kindness every day, so we do not take them for granted. And by looking deeper at their efforts, and appreciating their kindness, this is a skill that can be developed over time and encourages them to feel loved and embraced as they are. Eventually, they will get better at recognizing and developing their own way of expressing acts of kindness and embrace their flaws as learning opportunities.
Our children are wiser and more capable than we think they are. They can handle quiet time to find aha moments if we cultivate the proper conditions for them to thrive with our presence and compassionate listening. Mindfulness meditation helps children relax, focus better and increase attention span. It also teaches children to manage their emotions, increase optimism and happiness, decrease bullying, and increase empathy and compassion. Meditating with your children resolves conflicts and strengthens relationships. Meditation is for everyone and it is a fruitful and enriching experience as long as you stay open and curious in the process of insightful learning.
Jolie conducts meditation for both children and adults in a safe and non-judgmental environment at Canvass. She designs camps, workshops and teacher development programme in schools and facilitates corporate mindfulness and overseas retreats, see more below.