During the school holidays it's likely you're spending more time than usual with children, either in your own family or with friends. If you're interested in teaching children to meditate you'll find they benefit greatly from the relaxation, so try these simple exercises to improve their wellbeing.
Successful mediation depends on whether you're open to the benefits, so talk to the child before you begin. Explain that meditation is a way to help them relax and enjoy whatever they're doing in their life. Hopefully they'll learn to love it too, and will be able to use the techniques they learn throughout their childhood and into adult life.
Children generally aren't ready to try meditation before the age of five, but even younger kids can try simple versions of these exercises.
A Buddhist monk, Buddhaghosa, explained in his book The Path of Purification that meditation is "a training of attention". For children, meditating will help them concentrate, creative thinking, and memory.
Mindfulness is being aware of what's in your mind. Just like with adult meditation, explain to the children that there's no right or wrong way to meditate. It's not about 'not thinking' or thinking about something specific; it's about focusing on your thoughts and feelings and letting them come naturally, recognising them, and accepting them.
Explain that you don't have to be in any specific position either; you can sit, lie down, or even meditate standing up. It's better to sit on a cushion rather than a hard floor.
Playing Kim's Game can help improve memory and awareness. The name of this game comes from Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim, and you've probably already played it as a child yourself. Put a selection of small objects on a tray, such as a pencil, key, stone, elastic band, scissors, marble and jewellery. Depending on the ages of the children you're playing with and the number of objects you have, leave the objects for them to look at. Then cover the tray or move it away, and ask them to write down all the objects on a piece of paper.
This game helps children train their awareness - but it must be fun. Don't make it too difficult, so start with fewer objects and then add more if they manage it easily.
Simple breathing exercises
It's great to teach children concentrate on their breathing. Explain that your breath is always with you, so you can use it to concentrate whenever you need and wherever you are. Focusing on breathing also helps if you’re feeling anxious, as anxiety makes you breath quicker; concentrate on taking slower, deeper breaths from the lower part of your tummy (your diaphragm).
Ask the children to sit up straight, but relaxed. Counting the breath is a simple way to get started – they should breathe in through their nose while you count to four, hold their breath while you count to two, and then breathe out through your mouth - making a soft whooshing noise - while you count to four. Pause for a second, and then repeat. Count with the child, and remind them not to force the breath.
You may have experience of a great idea coming to you when you’re most relaxed, or daydreaming. This can help kids too, through visualisation exercises.
Ask the child to sit, relaxed, and start to let images appear naturally in their mind. You can guide them through this, by taking a journey, for example, or picturing a house for them to live in. Tell them not to ‘think’ of things, but just let the pictures appear naturally in their mind. If they can, ask them to start wth a white screen, and let images appear on it.
They could also imagine they're standing in a doorway, or at the end of a tunnel, and they can picture the scene in front of them. Ask them who they meet (either people or animals), what the weather is like, and how the ground feels under their feet.
More meditating for kids
If you're interested in learning more, take a look at the Headspace for Kids free subscription. The sessions are divided into three age groups: five and under, six to eight, and nine to 12.
There's also more information at teachchildrenmeditation.com, with free tips on the blog.