Increasingly over the years, and especially in the past year with COVID-19, I have noticed a lot of kids and parents coming into see me a bit frazzled. To put it more accurately, kids are stressed. Kids are growing up with stress at extraordinary levels — social, academic, and athletic pressure, just to name a few. These are pressures many parents didn’t experience to the level of their kids are now. And, of course, the stress of uncertainty over the last year due to COVID-19 has left many of us feeling unsettled.
When I see this with my patients and parents who want to know how they can help, I am happy to tell them there is an easy way to help kids and parents alike. It is a prescription they don’t have to pick up at the pharmacy. While it’s an easy thing to do, it requires discipline, but not a ton of time and it’s been around for centuries. It is meditation.
Believe it or not, teaching kids to look after their minds is just as important as teaching them how to care for their bodies. Studies show that meditation can lead to:
Teaching your kids this simple act of how to stop, focus and take a minute to breathe could be one of the best things you do for them. Children of all ages need a few minutes each day to be completely unplugged — from phones, computers, TV and, yes, even school. I’ve seen some schools incorporate this into the day! Meditation gives kids this break and can help them function from a calmer and clearer place.
But let’s take a step back and look at what meditation is.
Meditation a natural and relatively easy way to regulate our bodies, help with our reaction to stress and promote overall good health. It is used to rest the mind, body and spirit.
Just as you may do various exercises to strengthen your body physically, there are many ways to meditate. This is not a one size fits all kind of practice, especially when you’re dealing with kids.
Meditation looks different for adults and kids. Naturally, adults tend to have more patience and the ability to stay focused longer, so with kids you need to start small. To begin, try for just a minute or two and build on that.
I think a great way to get started is to keep it simple and focus on deep breaths. Yes, even just a few deep breaths can help calm the nervous system and decrease stress hormones. It’s best to start with kids when they are calm. Also, it’s great to start with young kids — but starting at any age is good! — and hopefully they carry this with them throughout their lives.
Here are a few tips:
A great place to start with some tools is Take 5ive Mindfulness. Take 5ive is a series of mindfulness videos created by Children’s Wisconsin in partnership with Growing Minds. The short videos offer three types of guided exercises that help work on focus and attention, mindful movement and kindness and compassion. The Take 5ive series is available to everyone for free on HealthyKidsLearnMore.com.
While I’m just focusing on taking deep breaths, there are great apps you can download to help further establish your meditation practice. Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are a few that come to mind. YouTube also has a wide variety of meditation videos to get you started. There are also licensed practitioners who can guide you through meditation practices, too. Whatever you do, choose a practice that works for you and your child, and you’ll both soon enjoy the benefits of a calmer mind, body and spirit.
As with any mental and behavioral health issue, if your child is dealing with something beyond daily stressors as mentioned above and requires medical intervention, start with your child’s pediatrician who will have many resources to help them.