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  • Written by  Fiona Clarke
  • // Tuesday, 16 October 2012 11:18
Fiona Clarke

What's up? Meditating with your child

Our deepest wish as parents is for our children to be happy. We feel intensely our children’s pain and suffering and would literally do anything to help them. But often we find ourselves at a loss - we don’t know what is troubling them, or how to help, though we keep trying to talk it through, figure it out, fix it up!

Really listening and attending to our children can often be enough to ease their suffering. However, sometimes they do not know what is distressing them, or they may feel powerless to change an old habit such as worry and anxiety, an explosive temper, or fragile self-esteem. Some children also feel that they are in some way ‘bad’, they feel unloved and unlovable.*

Water the Seeds of Joy

Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to “water the seeds of joy” within us, Sogyal Rinpoche explains that if we strengthen our positive aspects first, it gives us courage, and enables us to look more clearly and more positively at our suffering.

Meditation is such a wonderful way to water the seeds of joy within, for children as well as adults. As we sit still, space begins to open up in our minds. Troubling thoughts and feelings sometimes just dissolve or disappear and those that remain seem to impact us less. We get more perspective and can see more clearly what we need to do and what we might need help with.

It seems too simple, yet just stopping and sitting still can completely transform our mind. Studies have shown that meditation helps us to be calmer, improves our attention, helps us to sleep better, strengthens our immune system, reduces stress and anxiety, helps us to become aware of our own and others’ feelings and to develop empathy. It is kind of magical!

When we meditate we learn to let thoughts and feelings come and go through our minds, like waves on the ocean, or like clouds passing across the sky. It is so helpful for children to experience their thoughts and feelings coming and going and constantly changing, and so to realize that they don’t have to get stuck in them or be consumed by them – thoughts and feelings are just visiting.

Unfortunately, we often strengthen negative thought patterns such as worry or anger by giving them lots of attention - we let them visit for too long. But with practice, we can take charge of our minds and choose which thoughts and feelings we would like to occupy our mind with - we can “water the seeds of joy”.

In this wonderful teaching, Rinpoche advises children to just sit and quietly settle when they are not so well inside, and so to give their body, mind and emotions a rest, and learn to take care of themselves

When I played this teaching for children, they said that when they don’t feel well inside, meditation really helps them to feel calmer and happier.

Meditating with your Child

Try meditating with your child; initially they may completely resist the idea of meditation, so you could offer some incentive such as a favourite game or something yummy to share afterwards. In time, they may start to enjoy the meditation and forget about the incentive – this happened with one of my children.

Choose a time and meditate together for 3 to 5 minutes every day if you can, sitting together on cushions or chairs, with your backs straight and bodies relaxed. Some families meditate in the morning, some after school or at bed-time, one family even meditates between dinner and dessert. Younger children may love to sit on your knee while you meditate, older children and teenagers may prefer to meditate alone.

It’s great if you can set aside a quiet corner somewhere in your house as your special meditation space, but anywhere can work - we really enjoyed sitting to meditate on their beds, before reading bed-time stories. You can focus on a candle, flower, crystal, a sacred image or statue. Alternatively, older children can focus on their breath. Children love to ring a bell or gong to start and end the meditation, and enjoy turning over an egg-timer to time the meditation. Don’t worry if your children giggle and fidget, its perfectly normal, eventually they will enjoy being still and silent, so don’t give up! As Rinpoche said in the teaching, “be a little bit patient, don’t pressure yourself”.

Resources on Mindfulness and Meditation for Families:

  • Building Emotional Intelligence, Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children, Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman (lindalantieri.org)
    Wonderful mindfulness activities and relaxation exercises to do together

  • 10 Mindful Minutes, Goldie Hawn (http://www.thehawnfoundation.org)
    Lots of great suggestions for mindfulness activities, a child-friendly explanation of how our brains work, and advice on handling difficult emotions

  • The Family Meditation Book, Kerry Lee MacLean (http://familymeditation.com)
    Filled with wonderful practical suggestions for meditating together as a family

  • Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla and Jon Kabat Zinn
    A very inspiring reminder for parents of the benefits of slowing down and being present, and of the importance of caring for ourselves through our own mindfulness practice

A word of caution – it is common for us to read books like this with a growing sense of dismay about all of the things we have already done wrong. It is good to be aware of this tendency, and to try instead to find just a couple of inspiring ideas that you could try out with your children ... or grand-children, its never too late!

Other books that I have found helpful for working with specific emotions are:

  • What to do when you worry too much, Dawn Huebner (clinical psychologist)
    Compares our worries to tomato plants – we make our worries grow by paying attention to them, Dawn suggests ways to stop cultivating our worries.

  • What to do when your temper flares, Dawn Huebner
    Explores the idea that it is not what happens that makes us mad, it is what we think about what happens that makes us mad. Dawn gives some very useful methods to stop feeding our anger.

*If you are very concerned about your own or your child’s emotional health, it is also advisable to seek good professional help.