Many children with special needs and learning disabilities struggle with anxiety and depression, and meditation for kids may be the answer.
Life can be stressful. And, we want to protect our kids as best we can. Meditation is a great coping mechanism for kids to learn. With this tool in their toolbox, they have a new resource for the remainder of their lives.
The idea, however, of teaching an eight-year-old or 13-year-old how to sit still without fidgeting for 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes is impossible, right?
Actually, it’s not. You will, though, need to build up in small increments.
Teaching kids to meditate
Even toddlers and preschoolers can learn to meditate, really.
Instead of setting an unrealistic goal of 30 minutes of absolute stillness. Yes, wouldn’t THAT be wonderful? Let’s work at something more do-able, like 30 seconds.
The goal is body awareness, according to Lorraine Murray, author of “Calm Kids: Help Children Relax with Mindful Activities” and “Connected Kids: Help Kids with Special Needs (And Autism) Shine With Mindful, Heartfelt Activities.” Think of early childhood meditation more like focused activity, rather than the stereotypical lotus position.
Have your child lay down flat with eyes closed. Put on some soothing music. Have them focus on wiggling one finger for five seconds. Make it a game. “Don’t move anything on your body except one finger up and down for five seconds.”
Five seconds of focus on one finger is a great start. Try this each day for a week and build to 15 seconds. In this way, kids are learning stop the busyness in their brain. With so much going in the world and the overwhelming stimulation we all experience, just being still is a beautiful thing.
Tons of apps and books are designed to help you and your kids to meditate. Some phone apps and videos even have cartoon characters taking children through a full-body meditation. Deepak Chopra has meditation how-to books and guides designed specifically for kids and families.
Meditation for Special Needs
Meditation improves sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases an individual’s ability to focus. For special needs’ kids, meditation has even been considered as a potential treatment for those on the autism spectrum.
According to research, even those new to a meditation practice see improvements in the brain’s ability to handle outside stimulation, something those with autism struggle. Tibetan singing bowls, often used for meditation, are known to soothe autistic children. For a clinical perspective, read, “Meditation as a Potential Therapy for Autism: A Review,” published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health.
Like anything else, parents who set an example have the greatest success when it comes to meditation. Children, even those with difficulties focusing, will make an extra effort to calm their bodies when they see a parent doing the same.
Surprisingly, kids have some advantages over adults when it comes to meditation. While adults are more able to focus and sit still, kids are more open and willing when it comes to trying new stuff. Adults tend to avoid feeling vulnerable and awkward, while kids are all in. Plus, kids know how to relax better than adults.
Don’t however, make the mistake of expecting a kid to meditate like an adult. Again, focus on body awareness and shorter periods of time. Meditation is a practice with grows with consistency.
In addition, make sure the meditation vibe created is suited to the age of the child. While a preschooler will enjoy a fairy-tale guided meditation, a teenager won’t. Older kids will appreciate choosing their own background meditation tunes.
Whatever the strategy, make meditation a part of your own or your families’ new normal.