January 17, 2014

Challenging the Monkey Mind: Meditating with Kids.

When our mind is consistently distracted, flitting from one thing to another instead of focusing on our meditation, this is sometimes called ‘Monkey Mind.’

That’s what I like to call it.

There are those that argue that kids don’t need to meditate, but I think it helps.

I run a Buddhist Sunday School program for kids at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City. Every Sunday I meditate with a group of children between the ages of four and 11. While I am teaching them meditation practice, I am also learning from them.

Studies show that meditation helps with things like anxiety and depression and I don’t think there’s any doubt that children suffer from these things just like adults do. If they decide to go forward with a meditative practice after they become adults, they will have a foundation already. This could be immensely helpful.

To me, meditating is hard sometimes. If I didn’t have it as part of my daily routine, I don’t think I would do it at all. I would just think, “I could sit down and meditate, but I have Netflix..”

But, it is part of my daily routine. I wake up, I shower and I meditate.

It’s no surprise that it can be hard for kids too. Kids don’t usually want to sit still.

There are two methods for meditating with children that I have found to be helpful but in both cases the important thing is parental involvement.

The best way to teach a child to meditate (and an adult, for that matter) is to meditate with them. If they see their parents doing it, they can start to think of it as something that is a good idea to do. Kids often imitate or emulate their parents when they are young.

The first style of meditation that I like to teach kids is the normal silent meditation that I think most people are familiar with.

You can either tell the child to count their breath or to just sit and listen and be mindful of their surroundings. Kids can often be incredibly good at this, if there are no distractions. In a group setting, it’s important to get the children to focus on not distracting one another. If one child is restless, it can disrupt the whole thing.

I have found that, although it’s counter-intuitive, kids with hyperactivity and other issues like that are often very good meditators. My little boy is always running around getting into trouble, but when it’s time to get on the cushion he is perfectly still. Not only that, but a lot of parents have said that meditation has helped their child deal with behavior issues in a way that nothing else has worked.

The other method is guided meditation or, as I prefer to call it, visualization meditation.

It’s another option when kids are having trouble sitting still with silent meditation. It gives a child something to focus on because sometimes just following the breath is simply too difficult. It’s really helpful for kids that just get too bored with sitting still.

You have the children close their eyes and visualize something, like a lotus rising out of the water, or the colors of a rainbow. I’ll include an example of this below.

Visualization meditations tend to work better for children that have difficulty engaging in silent meditation.

If teaching a child to meditate is difficult, don’t get discouraged.

Like anything else, practice comes with time. And this is an important point. If your child really and truly does not have an interest in meditation, don’t make them. If they’re forced into it, it probably won’t be much help. If that’s the case, the best thing you can do is make sure they see you meditating.

If you don’t have a regular meditation practice, then it would be a little silly to expect your child to have one. Our children learn by watching us.

I’ll close with a brief description of a Visualization Meditation that I do with children:

(Instruct the children to sit comfortably and close their eyes.)

“Imagine you are a seed in the ground.

Rain seeps through the ground and nourishes you and you start to sprout. Slowly you grow, peeking your way out of the dirt. Little by little you start to rise.

As you get taller, a bud appears at the top of you.

Slowly the bud opens. Feel the sun shining on you, giving you warmth and energy.

Rest like this for a few minutes, picturing yourself as the beautiful flower.”

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: elephant journal archives, Bhushan Ahire/Pixoto


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