Meditation for children: A practical guide for parents and teachers
CAN CHILDREN LEARN TO MEDITATE?
Yes! Over 140,000 school children around the world have learned the TM technique in the past three years, and the TM technique has been successfully used in the classroom for 40 years.
As meditation becomes more and more popular among adults, teaching meditation to children is being promoted as a way to create centeredness and focus at a tender age. Yet many teachers and parents recognize the difficulty of teaching a young child to try and silence the mind and sit still. As a result, a variety of “children’s meditations” are being invented that often use imagination or creative imagery, focusing on the breath or trying to find stillness within. Often these methods are being employed in an attempt to create calmness in the classroom. Unwittingly, these practices have been introduced to children without any track record of success and little, if any scientific research on the effects they may have on a child’s brain and development.
Parents may wonder: should children be taught to discipline their minds or channel their imagination for specific purposes? At what age is it appropriate for my child to meditate? What kind of practice is safe and effective for children? Is there any tradition, precedence or scientific authority behind the practice of children’s meditation? Is meditation something I should teach my child, or do along with them?
The ancient, venerated Vedic Tradition of meditation prescribes different practices at specific stages of development in the child’s life. Because very young children are still integrating their inner world with the outer world around them, they may find it difficult to practice a meditation that requires them to sit still or inhibits their natural inclination to know and discover. Attempts to settle a child through directing their attention to breathing, engaging in creative visualization or trying to achieve inner silence can instead cause strain and frustration for the exuberant, growing child.
One technique of meditation that has been successfully introduced to many middle and high schools throughout America and around the world is the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. Based on the broad spectrum of scientific research on the effectiveness of the TM technique for students and adults , educators have felt confident that the Transcendental Meditation program is a safe and reliable practice to help children cope with stress and improve learning ability and behavior. Over 140,000 school children around the world have learned the TM technique in the past three years, and the TM technique has been successfully used in the classroom for 40 years.
Science has looked at what happens in the brain during the practice of the TM technique. Findings indicate the onset of a healthy state of coherence and balance throughout all parts of the brain, with increased activation of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for discrimination and higher reasoning. Notably, this type of holistic brain functioning is not found while a child is studying, playing, watching TV or listening to music; nor does this balanced, holistic brain functioning come about through other types of meditation exercises, such as mindfulness, watching the breath, visualizing, or guided imagination; all such activities activate specific areas of the brain. Only the meditative state associated with ‘transcending’ during TM practice has been found to activate the entire brain in this holistic way. Moreover, research shows that twice-daily practice of the TM technique develops a healthier, more efficient style of brain functioning for people of all ages. Practice of the TM technique for 10 – 20 minutes twice daily not only stimulates brain development and learning ability in children, but also provides natural relief from stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue.
“One of the best-documented ways to address anxiety in children is to teach them to deeply relax themselves. Children and adolescents often encounter stress at home and at school,” says Dr. William Stixrud, clinical neuropsychologist and faculty at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. “If you can effectively treat a child’s anxiety problems, you significantly decrease the likelihood that they’re going to develop depression, addictive behaviors or other kinds of mental health problems. Transcendental Meditation becomes a very important tool, not only in the treatment of children with anxiety problems, but also in the prevention of anxiety disorders.”
Reducing stress and increasing inner happiness increases flexibility, social abilities and self esteem. Children who naturally find self-approval from within, rather than seeking it mostly from the outside, are less influenced by peer pressure. When properly practiced, meditation is a valuable tool for a child to use as she matures, better preparing her to meet the stresses and challenges of adulthood.
WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE TIME IN A CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT TO SIT AND PRACTICE EYES-CLOSED MEDITATION?
According to the tradition of the Transcendental Meditation program, no sooner than ten years of age. Starting with just a few minutes morning and afternoon, children ten and older find the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique easy to master because it doesn’t require focus, concentration or that they sit still. Even children with ADHD are able to practice this meditation successfully.
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN UNDER TEN?
A special practice appropriate for the developmental stage of early childhood is the Word of Wisdom technique. This eyes – open meditation can be learned by children starting at age four. This practice strengthens the mind and stabilizes the emotions of the young child. The children’s TM technique is practiced a few minutes each day with eyes open, while the child is quietly engaged in easy, natural activities such as walking or coloring. The children’s technique has been found to promote balance in mind and body and integrate the child’s nervous system. The child grows in stability in relation to the outer world and does not become introverted or withdrawn – as may occur through use of adult meditative practices that would be unnatural for them.
Children benefit most from meditation when their parents are also meditating. A family that meditates together typically finds that their home life grows more harmonious and blissful. There’s more time for nourishing interactions when stress is released during meditation, instead of through outbursts and arguments.
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