Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Examiner Bio How to teach meditation to children

Buddhism ExaminerEmily Breder

In a world fraught with distraction, violence and posturing, it is a major concern for parents that they are bringing up their children in a way that is compassionate and adaptable. They should be resilient against the dangers and upsets that the world inevitably brings. This is why many adults are turning to meditation, secular and otherwise, to create an atmosphere of balance to their lives. The earlier that children are taught to meditate the easier it is for them to resort to it as a useful tool during the stressful teenage years and the transition into adulthood, and beyond.

Teaching meditation to children is a group activity, and does not require expensive equipment. Tools such as special cushions and chimes are really unnecessary and can even be counter-productive in the beginning. Kids (and parents) can become overly attached to their presence and become convinced that they can't meditate 'properly' if the tools aren't present. The best philosophy is to just meditate wherever and however you can, and once the habit is created one can experiment with tools to make the process more fluid. However, it's important to be mindful of attachment during experimentation, and to spend some time meditating without a tool if you become too dependent on it.

The bonding aspect is one of the first benefits that you will reap from meditating as a family. Spending some time together quietly, observing the present moment, can be as fulfilling as a regular family game night or a story at bedtime. The kids (and parents) will not only learn silence and patience, but also the value of quiet company. Especially in stressful times, considerate silence is sometimes the best medicine for a companion who is too troubled to verbalize but desirous of company.

Start with no more than one minute, and use a timer. Position the timer where the child cannot see it, and don't look at it yourself. If your kids see you peeking glances at the clock, they will not take the experience seriously. Don't be rigid, but set a good example. They will probably not be able to keep their eyes closed at first, but that doesn't matter so long as they are sitting relatively still and trying to participate. Practice one minute every night, before reading a story or other bedtime rituals. If you believe the child is ready for a longer meditation, extend it no more than one minute a week. Most kids will 'burn out' if you progress any faster.
It can be too much to ask for a child to sit still for very long. They simply aren't capable, in most cases, to practice meditation with the intensity and depth of an adult. Visualization exercises can be taught in the beginning and simply referred to with a keyword later on for simplification (i.e. "Now the circle meditation"). Allow the child to participate in the creation of their own meditation practices to make them more personal. If they develop a favorite, allow that as a reward after a minute of a different meditation to encourage them to stretch themselves.

Here are some exercises to try with your child:
  • The 'circle of color' meditation described in the Asperger's meditation article. This requires a little preparation, but it isn't elaborate.
  • Metta meditation  Alter the instructions in the linked article slightly to focus on the child, family, and other children. This simple visualization will help your child learn compassion and to open their hearts to other kids, but it's inadvisable to have them meditate on 'strangers who repulse them' until they are well into adulthood.
  • Recite mantra  A simple 'Om' recitation or a short phrase of your own creation can be used here. If your child has issues with frustration, for instance, a mantra about patience can be beneficial.
It does take some time for the practice to really sink in, but results can be seen with regular practice usually within six weeks. Children with ADHD and learning disorders can especially benefit from meditation practice. It is particularly challenging for them, but the gentle care and creativity that is accessed in the creation of the meditation can touch them on a deeply personal level. Touching the quiet inner space that meditation creates can be addictive.

Say 'Come back to the breath' gently and quietly every twenty seconds or so to restart the meditation, as they are sure to have strayed in thought. When you attach the feeling of calm to the breath, the feeling of calm can be accessed by the child anywhere their breath can be experienced. This makes the tools of meditation available to them wherever they happen to be, even in crowded rooms.