One night several years ago, at a time when my kids were very young, shared a bedroom and chronically fought sleep (think “Too many monkeys, jumping on the bed”), desperation compelled me to conjure some way to make winding-down feel like fun.
Our "game" became their bedtime ritual. I began by having them stretch out, close their eyes and take three deep breaths. I told them to squeeze their toes for a few seconds before releasing them, then had them move up to their legs and beyond, gently squeezing and releasing ‘pairs of parts’ one at a time. Noses and ears always elicited a few giggles, conveniently expelling whatever antsy energy remained. Their eyes still closed, I then suggested that they focus their attention on the white noise of their fan, and with their mind’s eye imagine it going ‘round and ‘round. Deep relaxation and sleep weren’t far behind – for any of us.
Little did I know that I was teaching my children to meditate, but it’s really that simple. Especially for kids. “Children are natural meditators,” says Tammy Johnson, a children’s meditation facilitator based in Batavia. “They have an easier time at it than adults.”
Have you ever considered meditating with your kids? Not only is it relaxing, but as they grow, meditation can help our children (and us!) to remain grounded and in touch with that all-important intuition I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Other benefits include diminished symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and ADHD, and improved sleep, self-esteem and overall health. Regular meditation reportedly also helps kids to focus and manage the challenge of sitting still in school. In fact, many schools have begun incorporating meditation into the school day, though I haven’t heard of that being formally practiced around here. Every now and then, though, I do hear about clever teachers who somehow manage to sneak time in every day for even a few moments of mindful deep-breathing and simple stretching. Those are some smart teachers, and you can bet they have happier, more peaceful students.
Johnson says that children as young as 5 can practice meditation on a daily basis, as long as the process is age-appropriate and fun; she recommends the picture book “Peaceful Piggy Meditation” by Kerry Lee MacLean as an adorable introduction to the process. When you’re ready, Johnson suggests, set aside just 10 minutes for the actual meditation and another 10 for your children to discuss, draw or write about their experience. Body position isn’t critical but being comfortable is, and younger children should feel free to move quietly about. In her experience, children respond well to guided meditations that encourage them to focus their senses. She recommends the book “Sensational Meditation for Children” by Sarah Wood Vallely because it’s full of examples, including one meditation called “the fudge-swirl.” That’s my kind of meditation.
Johnson encourages families to meditate together because doing so increases harmony, decreases relational stress and strengthens family bonds. Creating meditations that incorporate family members’ interests will keep them interesting and fun, so I’m thinking it would be helpful to listen for clues about what might work. “I’m a nature boy, Mommy,” my son volunteered several years ago on our first of many strolls among the towering spruce at the Morton Arboretum. Walking meditations are perfectly acceptable (ever walked a labyrinth?) and children can take turns guiding meditations so that everyone gets an opportunity to experience the process from different perspectives.
Afterwards, ask your child if he noticed anything happening in his body. “Do you feel different? Do you think you could do this meditation on your own?” That’s the hope, after all, since our kids, sooner than we might like, will eventually blossom into independent young adults who know that they can always turn to that still, calm, peaceful place inside whenever life becomes overwhelming – or they suddenly discover they have too many monkeys jumping on the bed.
• Jennifer DuBose is a contributor for the Kane County Chronicle. She lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. She can be reached at email@example.com.