WebMD Feature By Mary Jo DiLonardo Reviewed By Hansa D. Bhargava, MD
Stress can affect everyone in the family. Your kids can get stressed by school work, friends, and lots of after-school activities. You can get it from work or being busy with carpool and keeping everyone happy. All that stress can lead everybody to make unhealthy choices – like skipping exercise to veg in front of the TV or choosing junk food instead of eating healthier.
Teach your kids that it’s important to learn healthy ways to beat stress. Relaxing and recharging gives us the energy and focus to make healthy choices.
One great way to ease stress is with meditation. It’s an easy, fast, healthy way to relax, and it can make you feel better. It’s easy for you to teach the kids. You can even practice together.
How to Start
There are no rules about where to go, how to sit, or how long to practice when you meditate. The key is to find what you and the kids like.
“Part of the challenge, like with diet or exercise, is to find the way that will work for you and that you’ll continue with,” says Tobin Hart, PhD. He wrote The Secret Spiritual World of Children and is a professor of psychology and the University of West Georgia.
A simple way is to start is to get comfortable. Sit or lie down in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
Then focus on your breathing. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Place your hand on your belly or your chest if that helps you stay aware each time you inhale and exhale. Follow your breath as it comes in. Follow it as it goes out.
You’ll probably notice your mind start to wander. You might think of errands you have to run or an itch that you want to scratch. That’s OK. Just recognize that it was on your mind and re-focus. When your kids get distracted, encourage them to gently bring their minds back to their breath.
For some people, it’s easier to focus on a mantra they repeat in their head instead of concentrating on breath. Have everyone find a word that relaxes them like “peace” or “love.” Have them say it slowly to themselves as they breathe in and out.
Or, you may find it’s easier for you and your kids to meditate while moving rather than sitting still. Getting out in nature and walking can be calming. Once you lace up and head outside, find a gentle rhythm. Now’s not the time for a powerwalk.
Instead, once you all are on the sidewalk, talk to the kids about being present. Explain what that means. It means being aware of things around you. Have everyone notice the sky and the trees. Ask, “How does the ground feel under your feet? Do you feel a breeze or warmth from the sun on your skin?”
Feel how your body moves as you take your steps. Have everyone repeat their mantra to themselves, if they like. Or have everyone just focus on their steps.
Ways to Include Younger Kids
Repeating a mantra and concentrating on breath might be too much for a preschooler or young grade-schooler, says Sarah Wood Vallely, author of Sensational Meditation for Children.
So how do you get younger kids to try meditation to help them relax? Make it fun.
Meditation doesn’t have to always be quiet. Instead, play games and teach them how to let worries go, Vallely suggests. That can be a fun, kid-friendly type of meditation.
She plays the “Let-Go Hokey-Pokey” with kids as young as 4 or 5. They sing the traditional song and do the dance, but instead of putting a “right arm in” or a “left foot in” the circle, they think about “putting in” things they don’t want to think about. They might say “cleaning my room.”
“The thing that’s most important is to present meditation as something fun,” says Vallely. “That’s why I like to incorporate games and fun as part of the experience.”
Explain to the kids that relaxing can be a cool way to make their bodies and minds feel better.
Where, How Often, and How Long
Once kids have tried a couple kinds of meditation, let them choose what kind they want to do. Let them sit or lie down – whichever they feel like doing.
In the beginning, it might be easiest to meditate where it’s quiet, but it’s OK to do it anywhere.
“They can meditate at school and people don’t have to know,” says Vallely. “Just sit at their desk and close their eyes for a minute if they have anxiety about a test.”
“As they get better at it, they really can meditate in a place that’s not as quiet,” says Vallely. “They will start to pick up that ‘I can meditate in my backyard, on the playground, in my room.’”
Tell kids that any time they start to feel stressed, they can use what they learned as a healthy way to feel better. Explain that meditation is a healthier choice than grabbing junk food or trying to feel better by playing video games or watching TV.
It would be great to try and get everyone to meditate at least a few times a week. There’s no set amount of time your family should try meditating for, but Vallely suggests about 1 minute of meditation time for every year of a child’s age. So a 10-year-old should be able to work up to meditating for 10 minutes at a time.
When the whole family is stressed with school, work, and activities, try to take time out for a few minutes of meditation. It’s a great family activity with awesome benefits.