Sarah Wood Vallely, CNE Magazine, 2004
Most people are curious about a child’s ability to meditate. Many adults can’t seem to find the time nor have the patience, so people wonder how could a child sit still long enough to meditate? Remarkably, children love to meditate. Meditation allows children to use their creative imagination without limitation. As a former schoolteacher and certified hypnotherapist, I’ve been working with children since 1991 and currently teach meditation techniques to children.
Meditation has proven effective with helping children become more attentive, which begins with a child’s ability to focus on himself. Meditation is a time for children to explore their inner world. Children are fascinated with clouds in the sky and stories on television; however, they are often most captivated by their own thoughts.
There are several meditation techniques borrowed from various cultures that help children thrive in today's world. Some of these techniques involve comfortable relaxing concentration. Others are journeys through time and space within ones mind. Many adults have trouble opening their inner mind to see, feel and hear the element of their meditation. Children, on the other hand, are by nature open and imaginative.
The facilitator of the child’s experience determines the success his meditation. Anyone can become a dynamic child meditation facilitator, whether they are a parent, teacher or therapist. The facilitator should be familiar with the most important benefits a child attains through meditation, practice and awareness. When a child meditates, he practices something in his head so later it is easier for him to carry out the particular action or feeling. Meditation also brings into consciousness thoughts the child is unaware of during normal consciousness.
When we practice a process in our minds, we are able to successfully repeat this process in the real world. Simply stated, we do something in our heads so we feel better later. This is similar to working out our body at the gym. We strengthen our biceps so we are able to lift a heavy box later that week. Likewise, during meditation, seven-year-old Ashley practices how to feel and the let go of her anger during a grounding meditation. Because she has practiced this during meditation it is easier for her to process her anger later.
The most ideal practice meditations bring calmness and focus to a child. These meditations are quite grounding, that is they bring a child into balance with the natural rhythms of the earth, which results in physical stability and emotional ease. A child can practice these meditations absolutely anywhere, even in her classroom when she begins to feel distracted or frustrated.
The Sleepy Cloud meditation is another excellent example of a practice meditation. This exercise helps a restless child bring sleepy thoughts into her inner mind, allowing her to fall asleep more easily.
Meditation is also useful for bringing into consciousness a subconscious thought. For example, Keith practices a release meditation with his father during which a picture of a frightening movie scene appears in his mind. When he shares this, his father learns that this scene may be causing the anxiety he has been expressing recently. This awareness prompts a conversation about the scene, and coupled with more meditation, Keith finds peace.
An effective awareness meditation is the Happy Tree meditation, during which the child sees a tree with happy and sad fruit. This is a metaphorical journey for the child. In many ways the sad fruit and the tree represent her sadness and the happy fruit represent her happiness. During the meditation, the child nurtures her sad fruit in a special way. Since this is a metaphorical journey, the parent and child can become aware that ways in which she nurtures her sad fruit can also help her understand how she can nurture herself.
Meditation is a relatively big word for most children. This word is sometimes a foreign concept to adults and therefore can be intimidating to the facilitator/Parent. However, it is a big word for something very simple! Moreover, I teach that there is no right or wrong answer for what meditation means and encourage my students to come up with their own meaning. Meditation can be simply closing your eyes and listening to the wind. Meditation can be feeling your hear beat. Meditation can be sitting quietly while you journey to wondrous places.
Before beginning a journey meditation, ask the child to close her eyes and think about what her bedroom looks like. When she opens her eyes ask her, If your eyes were closed when you saw the picture of your bedroom, then how did you see the picture? Performing this short exercise and participating in a discussion about it should alleviate any fears associated with not being able to meditate because it really is that easy.
Next, explain to the child how people usually position their body during meditation. Then let her know any position is perfect as long as she is comfortable. She can meditate sitting up in a chair, lying down, or sitting cross-legged on the floor. Let her know it is best if her eyes are closed, and it might be easier if she puts her hands over her eyes to help keep them closed. Remind the child that she can meditate anywhere. In fact she can meditate for a few minutes in her school classroom without anyone knowing what she is doing. She can even meditate with her eyes open if she prefers.
The following meditation allows a child to connect with his male and female energies; however, I refer to the female energy as the Listener and the male energy as the Doer.
After facilitating the short exercise above and before beginning the Listener-Doer meditation, discuss the many different parts of ourselves: the part that likes to have fun, the part that likes to be sad, the part that likes to be loud, and the part that likes to be quiet.
When I teach children meditation, I usually work with a small group of children. After the first year, I was amazed by the enthusiasm of not only parents but also those without children who were drawn to the idea of teaching children how to meditate. During almost every class, an interested adult or two would come simply to observe the phenomenon of children meditating. Due to these observers’ overwhelming eagerness to become a part of this movement, I created a comprehensive program to prepare adults to teach their own meditation classes to children called Child Meditation Facilitators training.
You can find all the techniques mentioned in this article in my new book, Sensational Meditation for Children.