Most parents will be on board for anything that will get their little ones to slow down and pause for a moment, so it’s no wonder more families are turning to meditation.
With anxiety being one of the biggest mental health issues our children and teenagers face, Smiling Mind CEO and psychologist Addie Wootten says prevention is key.
“Meditation provides an easily accessible tool for kids to use to learn how to manage their own emotions, regulate behaviour and take a proactive approach to managing stress,” she says.
“Mindfulness meditation supports kids to develop a healthy approach to their own emotional state, learn how to manage stressful events in their life and learn how to focus and pay attention. All skills that are very much needed in the context of digital overload and self comparison through social media.”
If you’re wanting to introduce your little one to a daily meditation practice but have no idea where to start, we have you covered.
We sat down with Addie and picked her brain on all things meditation so you have all the information you need. And before you start to feel overwhelmed, know you can start with just a few minutes a day.
Why is meditation so beneficial for kids?
1 in 7 primary school aged children and 1 in 4 high school students experience a mental health condition in any one year. Anxiety is one of the biggest mental health challenges faced by children and young people and this can have wide-reaching impacts on wellbeing, relationships and school performance. Unfortunately suicide is also the biggest killer – more young people die from suicide than road accidents.
Meditation practice has been shown to improve attention, meaning students are more capable of taking in new information without being distracted by internal reactions or preconceived perspectives. It improves working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, planning, goal directed behaviour and self regulation, essential skills when it comes to learning new information.
It also reduces emotional reactivity, behavioural issues, anxiety and depression. This means students have fewer potential obstacles standing in the way of their learning. Other benefits include:
- Increased mental wellbeing
- Greater engagement, concentration and focus
- Improved academic performance
- Better relationships
- Improved resilience
- Reductions in stress and anxiety
- Improves sleep
- Reductions in the experience of bullying and classroom disruptions.
How early can kids start meditation?
It’s important to differentiate between mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness is the overarching approach to life – or mindset that we’re trying to cultivate.
That’s the ability to stay focused on the present moment with openness, curiosity and without judgement. Mindfulness is about learning how to be here now, focussed on what you’re doing and getting the most out of it. Meditation is the practice (a mental exercise) that strengthens our ability to be mindful. It’s like gym for the mind.
Young children can practice being mindful – learning how to focus on one thing at a time, slowing down and noticing things, and this can be supported by brief guided meditation practices.
But often young children can find it hard to focus for an extended period of time. Activities such as exploring sounds and listening exercises, or nature walks that are slow and deliberate – these are what we call informal mindfulness exercises.
Many parents find formal meditation can be useful just before bed for young children as it helps them to wind down and settle.
WHAT ARE THE MOST APPROPRIATE TIME LENGTHS FOR DIFFERENT AGES TO MEDITATE?
The length of time and frequency of meditating can vary for different people, but we usually recommend the following time frames:
- 03-06 year olds: A few minutes per day.
- 07-12 year olds: 3-10 minutes twice a day.
- 13-18 year old: 5-15 minutes per day or more based on preference.
What can you do if you find it impossible to get your little one to sit still for long enough to do a guided meditation?
Start by practicing Informal Mindfulness, and work up to the traditional, guided formal mindfulness practice.
With informal practice you bring the same kind of improved attention that you might get from formal practice to everyday situations. This involves directing your full and non-judgemental attention to the activity you’re undertaking at a particular moment. You might get your child to really focus on:
- Eating their food
- Drawing a picture
- Brushing their teeth
- Doing their homework
Then try to work mindfulness meditation into your kid’s bedtime routine. To help you quiet your child’s mind, play them a bedtime meditation each night. It will integrate the practice more easily into your toddlers routine, and calming their minds in this way will greatly increase their chances of falling off to sleep much more quickly and soundly.
How long after starting to meditate can parents see a difference in their child?
The benefits of meditation can be noticed as quickly as after one single session. Some studies have shown increased mood, decreased stress, and reduced blood pressure after one session but most of the evidence is based on 8 weeks of practice, so longer lasting changes take some time. Clarity, calmness, and improved focus are some of the benefits that come to light relatively quickly.
The most important part of developing a meditation practice is consistency. Research shows that you don’t have to meditate every single day in a row, but that the benefits are tied to regular, consistent practice. Based on the research, a regular practice associated with benefits involves meditating at least 3 times a week.
Meditating gives children the tools to self regulate their emotions, become more self aware and have more control over the way they react. No one would argue with that.