It was the end of the day, and he was tired and hungry. Coming home from a long day at school and afterschool daycare depleted him. He had no patience, no need for more stimulation and was undoubtedly ready for dinner.
But dinner was not ready, and there was still homework to do.
“Honey, please take off your coat, empty your lunch kit and wash your hands,” I said as I always do the moment he walks through the door.
“NO! I don’t love you. You’re stupid!” He mutters.
“We don’t say those things. Please just do those few things quickly and then we can sit and practice our letters” I explain.
“NO...that’s stupid!” he screams, then runs off to his room.
This was a constant battle with him. Every day it was like walking on eggshells. Will he be happy? Will he be grumpy? How was his day? I never knew.
I was up in arms at this point, confused as to how we help our little guy manage his emotions. We read blog post after blog post written by some of the top child psychologists even emailed some of those professionals. We read the books, listened to the podcasts, but nothing was working. Then we started our own method in teaching him self-regulation. The two things we did, to start, were:
1- Learning how to take deep breaths when he got upset/confused
2 - Excusing himself to go to his quiet space to recuperate
So we decided on creating his own ‘quiet time,’ which really is just alone time in his room when he needs to get away (not a timeout), and we implemented nightly meditations (key to teaching breathing techniques on a whole other level.)
At first, it was a challenge. My two boys found it boring and couldn't sit still. They wanted to read a book instead. But after a few weeks, it became a part of our nightly routine so much so that we didn't even have to remind ourselves to do it.
Why meditate at night? Because you can get your kid to do anything before bed as long as it means they don’t have to go to bed ;) We used a couple kids meditation apps (5 minutes or less) and, as they started to see the pattern, they began doing their own guided meditations (so cute!)
This added step to our nightly routine, plus a couple other behavior adaptations thanks to the Kazdin Method, has dramatically improved his mood and emotion management on a daily basis. He is more delightful, patient and, when his tantrums do occur, they are shorter, less aggressive and he can now self-sooth.
Note: A little caution in teaching your kids to meditate: they will not sit still for very long, especially when first starting out or dependent on their age. Let them wiggle, move around, even keep their eyes open if they must. It’s all in practice (and in good time) that they, and you, will achieve a better meditation practice.
Now, here are six steps to teaching your kids how to meditate:
1 - Create an Oasis of Calm
The science behind meditation proves its benefits, and even in young kids. Studies have also linked mindfulness to better concentration, increased focus, and boosts of memory. A school in West Baltimore started implementing daily meditation in place of detention in their new “Mindful Moment Room.” This room is warm, brightly lit with purple rugs, pillows, yoga mats, and essential oils. Not something you see in any typical elementary school, but with the help of the school and some happy teachers, the room has become a happy replacement for a room that otherwise made a child feel defeated.
"When we sit with pain or discomfort rather than act on it, we learn that feelings and sensations come and go. We don't necessarily need to act on them all. We have a chance to pause and make a thoughtful choice about how to respond”, explains Tamar Mendelson, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who specializes in mental health. Schools and daycares are places filled with stimuli which can be tough for smaller kids to manage. They react and can become defiant, aggressive, and even bully others to get their way. Many kids come from a high-stress environment and throwing them into a daily battle of learning versus surviving, can be depleting. But in teaching kids how to manage their emotions through meditation can calm them, even in the toughest of situations.
Create a calming room in your house or a safe place for them to go when they feel wound up. Use that space to teach your kids about meditation and have them make it their own space.
2 - Lead By Example
Does something your kid say ever stop you in your tracks and make you think “That sounds like something I would say!” It’s because they mirror your behaviors. Which is perfect in teaching them how to meditate. You need to develop your own meditation practice and then explain to your children the way. Take time in front of them, even for just five minutes a day, to meditate. Let them crawl over you or sit in your lap, it doesn’t matter. The more they see you practicing stillness, the more they will want to join in. Once they build that curiosity and become interested in what you’re doing, you’ll have yourself a meditation buddy.
3 - Focus on Breathing First
It’s easy to get carried away with storytelling (mentioned below) or other things that will help our children learn how to meditate, but the most important thing of all is the breath. The breath is the starting and finishing point for any type of meditation. It is our anchor as it is carried with us all day long. Children can quickly learn this too by noticing how their body changes when they breathe; the chest goes up and down as they inhale, then exhale. While they focus on that, their mind is on their breath and not anything else. Aha! The first success in meditation.
4 - Make it Relatable
We use a couple children’s apps that have great storytelling that keeps them interested. My favorite is Mindfulness for Children. It has various meditations from something as short as 4:30 minutes up to 20 + minutes. We don’t always get through the whole meditation, stopping when we feel relaxed and rested, but it works for us and the techniques they have learned they have quickly implemented in real life.
If you’re not into apps (keeping electronics out of the room may be important for you), then grab a couple books on the matter, like Breathe Like a Bear, I Can Handle It, What Does It Mean to Be Present, or A Handful of Quiet. The point is, make them want to do it, make it exciting, but most importantly, make it relatable.
5 - Set a Timer
If you can’t get your 4-year-old to sit still during her favorite TV show, then how will you get her to stay calm during a 5-minute meditation? The idea is to start with a short time period and set a timer. The apps that we use have short meditations, but if you want just to practice a breathing technique or silence, then I would suggest using a timer, so they know it will eventually end :)
We use the Miracle TimeCube for this (and other routine tasks like brushing teeth, getting dressed and even eating dinner.)
6 - If All Else Fails, Tell Them a Made up Story
When we first started meditating as a family, it was tough to slog. The boys, then 3 and 4, couldn't sit still for 10 seconds. So I started by laying with them in on one their beds, telling them to relax and breath and I would start by telling a story.
The character (a bear) at some points throughout the story had to stop and take a few deep breaths, and I’d ask them “can you do the same? Can you breath deeply like the bear?” And they would. We did it often enough that they were unconsciously practicing a deep breathing technique. The bear wandered on the beach, pausing for a moment to soak in the sunshine, taking in deep breaths as he relaxed. I would tell the boys to imagine them being like the bear, laying on the beach.
“Now breath in and out 3 times like the bear.”
“Now imagine the sun on your skin and the sand in your toes. Are you relaxed?”
“Are you excited?”
Gently speaking as you begin your meditation practice is ok. Let your kids interact and ask questions, but remind them that the moment is really about being quiet, being still and focusing on our breath.
Meditation can be difficult to conquer. It’s tough enough for adults, let alone squirmy little ones. But the more you do it, and the more you make it an integral part of your routine, the better you will all become. Pencil it into your daily practice, maybe in the morning when you all first wake up, or right before bed as we do. It really doesn’t matter when you do it, especially when you’re first starting out. What matters is that you do it together, daily.
Bonus: Get the Course!
My friend Heather Chauvin created THE course on teaching your kids to meditate. Check it out here: Teach Your Kid to Meditate.