Mindfulness and Meditation for Children

As a mindfulness and meditation program developer and teacher, I work with children and teachers both privately and in school settings. I help them develop strategies to manage stress, lessen anxiety, build resilience and see firsthand how these practices can change their lives.

Mindfulness is a natural quality. Bringing a mindful focus to any given moment allows us to create space to breathe and find clarity.

While children certainly have abundant energy, a meditative state is also quite a natural for them. Quickly learning that it makes them feel great, they are happy to take the time to practice.

Mindfulness can help children learn to be more self-aware, manage their emotions & reactions, be more focused, and address worries and stress. In today’s uncertain and often overwhelming world, these things are becoming more and more important for all of us. I love teaching children because I know these tools will help them throughout their lives. What they learn today will support them through the ups & downs they will inevitably face.

In a fast paced culture like New York, it is easy for kids to feel over-scheduled and under stress. Grades matter, tardiness matters, behavior matters, activities –everything matters(!), so when do they just get to be a kid? When my daughter was in 3rd grade (she’s now 15!), she said to me “Mama, why do they keep telling us we have to get ready for 4th grade, why can’t we just be in 3rd grade?” Out of the mouths of babes …

They often feel under pressure to be a certain way and that it’s difficult to find space just to be.

Small children are in the moment, naturally. We can learn a lot from them. With older kids, their social lives, both in person and on social media, constantly pulls them out of the moment, creating a habit of distraction.

As adults, we are in the same boat. The minute we are bored, or experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, we reach for our phones. Many of us have other habits to distract us, such as overeating, constant dieting, over-exercising, over-scheduling, workaholism, binge-watching, or countless others.

This distraction comes at a cost as not dealing with emotions that arise can be unhealthy. Suppressing emotions can make them stronger, with a tendency to resurface later causing road rage, uncontrollable sobbing at random events, and feeling overwhelming anger when your child, partner or co-worker does something they ‘shouldn’t.

I get children to mindfully check in with how they are feeling both in their mind and body, to notice. Creating this habit of mindfulness and meditation allows us to create a safe space to experience uncomfortable emotions without being overrun by them. We learn that they’re not as frightening as they appear and they’re not permanent. They pass, sometimes right before our eyes.

Teaching our children meditation allows them to create this space inside themselves, where they can bring calm and deal with an emotion.

Mindfulness and meditation helps them find an equanimity that they so desperately need.

How can you bring a practice into your home? First of all, make sure you have “down time” that doesn’t involve devices. If your kids complain of being bored, think of this as a good thing. They will soon learn how to occupy themselves and find something that interests them. This is helps them develop skills of resourcefulness, creativity, and curiosity.

When they are experiencing an emotion, help them find the words to express it and the space to experience it. Help them learn tools to calm down and be aware of the numerous responses options they have.

For younger kids, introducing a bedtime routine can be really important, like lowering the lights, reading together, some restorative yoga, or a guided meditation. This calming-down process is equally important for teens.

And of course if you don’t have a meditation practice – start one! Children learn from what they see. If you are stressed out, always on your phone, not making time for self-care, they will model you and neglect themselves. Show the importance of mindfulness in your own life!

Brogan Ganley is a Mindfulness and Meditation program developer, consultant and artist. She works in schools, hospitals, community centers and privately with both adults and children who are experiencing stress and anxiety.