Just like neurofeedback, meditation can be a life-changing tool and a great way to work with ones mind and emotions. In this article NYC Family Therapist, Neurofeedback Trainer and meditation teacher Alison Pepper points out some important do's and don'ts when it comes to introducing mindfulness meditation to a child.
As a child and family therapist and a meditation teacher common questions I hear from parents who would like to introduce mindfulness meditation into their child's life are; "How do I meditate with my child?" "How old is old enough and how long is too long?" I also often hear these questions from nonsuccessful parents who have tried meditating with their child; "My child can’t sit still—what do I do?," "I love to sit but they don’t?" So many questions! While I may not have the answers to all, below I have compiled a list of some helpful tips to keep in mind when meditating with a child.
There are a few important things to keep in when when deciding to meditate with you child. First, ask yourself, what is your motivation? Why are you interested in meditation for yourself? Many people, myself included, seek out meditation because we are in acute pain and hoping to make a change, grow, heal, or soothe our way to enlightenment one breath at a time.
Anyone who has a meditation practice or who has studied the Buddha Dharma is well aware that mediation doesn’t make the pain or suffering of samsara go away; rather, it is a profound way to work with our minds and any thought or emotion that may arise. The same is true for children: meditation is a tool for them to work with their minds, hearts, and emotions. That said, like all things with children, it is all slightly more complicated.
3 main things to consider when starting your child on a path of mindfulness meditation
1) Age matters!
Being aware of your child’s age and stage can be so helpful not because there is a “normal three year old or typical nine year old” but because there are important development milestones and markers that most parents (aka adults) don’t know about or don’t remember because it was SO long ago that we ourselves were children. Buddhist Teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “You can’t dismantle your ego with sitting practice until you develop your ego.” In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, formal meditation instruction is passed on around age 8-10 (depending on the child). Generally, the instruction is given at a Rites of Passage program where honor and time is given to respect this magical age when children begin to shift out of young childhood and into the more mature mindset of being an older child with more understanding of the world around them. Nine years old is a big marker in childhood and other world wide religions also have ceremonies at or around this age.
2) Time matters!
Children under the age of eight or nine have very short attention spans. We happen to live in a world, and in a culture especially, that asks a lot of young children. However, mediation doesn’t need to be one of those places. One way to introduce children younger than eight to meditation is through games or challenges. Young children can mindfully still their body and listen to a ringing gong, usually for a minute or two. It can be fun with one child or a group of children to play a game focused on stillness and quiet, but one must be realistic. Your young child is most likely not ready to join you for your next 20 minute sit. Indeed, sessions with children should be short: no longer than their age for sure. Most five year olds I know can not sit for five minutes but they can be still and quiet for a minute or two.
3) The 5 senses and fun!
When children experience mindfulness meditation, the focus should first be put on the mindfulness aspect, and not the meditation aspect. Formal sitting meditation (i.e. attention on the breath, labeling thoughts “thinking,” etc.) is really best for older children, teens, and adults; however, younger children love to explore their bodies and their senses. So ask your child to really sit or really stretch or perhaps really dance! Mindfulness meditation activities involving I (listen to the gong or bell) and taste (chew and taste this MnM or salty pretzel) are big hits with young children. So get creative and have some fun! Children are under so much pressure these days and sitting practice or a mindfulness meditation at home or school doesn’t need to be one of those pressure places. The key is to just have fun and be present to each other!
Other resources and ideas for meditating with your child and family
- Upcoming Tiger, Lion, Garuda, Dragon classes at the Shambhala Meditation Center of NY
- MNDFL Ed: bringing mediation to schools and offering classes in NYC
- The Rubin Museum
Written by Alison Pepper, LCSW & NeurOptimal Neurofeedback Trainer
Alison Pepper is a NYC Therapist and a Neurofeedback Trainer working with families and children dealing with mental health issues; with an emphasis on trauma informed work. She's a bilingual therapist for over five years (fluent in both English and Spanish), SIFI certified, and a meditation teacher. She recently became a Certified NeurOptimal Neurofeedback Trainer at Neurofeedback Training Co. in New York City.
“I believe all people have the tools to heal ourselves; grow, learn, and reach our full potential. No matter what your age or life circumstances therapy is a safe space to do that work.”
Read our case study showing the results of neurofeedback in the life of a young boy. Braintraining with NeurOptimal can help improve cognitive and physical performance, enhance focus and deepen sleep. Case Study on Neurofeedback for ADHD >