Children and Meditation


My Latest Writing Candle
My Latest Writing Candle

Achy and tired from a one-hour morning walk on the treadmill, I sat at my computer a while ago with a single question.  What shall I write about for tomorrow’s blog post?
Before fully awakening this morning I dozed off and on in dreams about a new post. But I can’t remember a word of it now. Plus, my mind is still absorbed in the book I was reading on Kindle (The Bet, by Vivienne Tuffnell) as I walked. What I really want to do is keep reading. But one-track-minded as my ego is, it decided to defer that particular gratification until I’ve written this, with no idea what this would be.
Years of dreamwork and meditation have taught me some valuable realities. One is that my ego’s conscious thoughts and feelings are balanced by equally valid and influential unconscious material. Another is that when I experience a writer’s block it’s because an unconscious issue “wants” to be addressed. Third, my ego can gain access to this material. I have rituals for times like this, and I trust them because they never let me down.
So I lit my ever-present candle—the current one has a nostalgic scent of cinnamon and evergreens called Joie de Noel—closed my eyes, held my hands in front of me, focused on feeling the tingling in my palms and the beating of my heart, and entered the pregnant darkness (a term for the unconscious I got from the title of Jungian analyst Monika Wikman’s book.) Within seconds I was far away.  I’ve been feeling stirrings of excitement lately about the coming of spring and our annual mid-May trek to North Carolina, and this is where I immediately went.
I saw myself sitting cross-legged in the center of the tipi we erect each spring. Our grandchildren were sitting in a line facing me. I was going to teach them how to meditate. I was wondering how to start and what to say and how they would react, imagining jokes and giggles and restless stirrings, when I realized how far my mind was from my hands. Immediately I was back at my desk feeling the tinglings. Within less than two minutes, what I wanted to write about was birthed into my awareness. Or rather, what I wanted to ask you about.
Except for the few minutes of deep-breathing combined with the simple  centering mantra I teach my dream groups and use to open my workshops, I’ve never taught anyone to meditate. I have little formal training and am largely self-taught with help from books. There are many different kinds of meditation and people respond differently to different methods. The one that works for me involves following my breath and the life in my body, noticing when my mind strays away from that focus, and then bringing myself gently back to it. With almost no effort or strain,  my ego swiftly goes to the place wanting the most attention.
So here’s my question.  Have any of you ever taught children to meditate?  If so, would you do it with children between the ages of five and eleven or is that too early? If not, should I find a fun way to teach what works for me, or have you had success with a different method? Of course, all of this is predicated on the assumption they’ll be interested in learning. But I figure it won’t hurt to give it a try.  I’d love them to have a mental practice to ease the stresses they’ll be experiencing in the coming years.
Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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14 Responses

  1. Maybe it’s children who can teach us, who have forgotten how to be children, how to simply Be, which is the purest meditation.

    1. Hi Harry. Well said! It’s disturbing to me that we lose this natural way of Being present with ourselves and our passions so early. For adults, becoming aware of our ability to stay conscious in the Now, to simply Be, is an attempt to return to that state, isn’t it? Too bad we only seem to be able to get there when we’re on the cushion, though. I wonder if alerting children to this native ability in themselves while they’re still young will help keep this function alive. Maybe then they won’t forget it, whether working, playing, or simply living their daily, grown-up lives.

  2. Great idea. I’d like to try it with my little ones. For them, though, I know I’ll need to do it individually, rather than as a group. They compete with and entertain each other too much to settle down as a group for this. And yet, I have a feeling that the middle grandchild–the one always on stage–will take to it the quickest. I’ll let you know!

    1. Yes, ours thoroughly enjoy each others’ company too, and, of course, that’s a good thing. I don’t want to impose my agenda on them arbitrarily, but I’d like to find a way to open them to the idea of observing their inner lives when the opportunity arises. Maybe on a rainy day? Or when they’re bored and can’t think of anything to do? I’m trying to think of a way to make a game of it when the occasion arises.
      My daughter notes how much they love treasure hunts and suggests I approach it as an inner treasure hunt/game. Like saying, “Close your eyes, take five deep breaths, then tell me the first thought you find.” Then they take turns telling their thoughts to each other. They’ll laugh and be silly, but that’s part of the fun. Then maybe doing it for “the first feeling you find.” And doing that a couple more times until they get tired of it. Just getting them used to distinguishing between thoughts and feelings.
      Another thought. We could call the tipi our Dream Kiva and use it for dream sharing too.
      Thanks for writing, Trish. This conversation is sparking more ideas and I’m getting excited about it.

  3. I don’t know how relevant this is, but I have been learning Taoist Tai Chi. Unlike another form of Tai Chi I used to practice, this one gives no instruction on breathing at all. The philosophy is that the breathing will come naturally once the forms are mastered. It seems like a mechanical approach, but I have found it meditative and it seems to relax me and energize me at the same time. As children generally like movement, perhaps some simple repetitive exercise could help put them in the right frame of mind?

    1. That’s a great idea. Meditative physical activity/movement is the perfect entrée! I haven’t done yoga in a while, but maybe I could teach them how to do sunrise salutations, then afterwards we could talk about what they noticed, what they were thinking, how they were feeling, etc. Thanks very much for the idea!

  4. Like Harry, my first reaction was that children could teach us how to meditate, not the other way around. I’m sure it changes at puberty, though, when the mind begins swirling around with so many questions, along with hormonal fluctuations in the body. Like you, Jean, I practice meditation as a way of staying in the moment and calming my jumpy brain.
    So I’m curious – do we have to teach the concepts first, in order for meditation to have any impact? When I picked up my first book of Buddhist philosophy – Being No One, Going Nowhere – my ego snorted disparagingly at the title. Who in their right mind, I thought, would want to be no one, going nowhere? It went against all the conditioning I had been subjected to my entire life. By the time I finished reading, of course, I knew exactly what this peaceful place was all about, and I continue to work on diminishing my ego so that I can experience more and more of this natural state of awareness.
    I know that you asked for practical advice, and I have nothing to share in this area. Here’s a great article from Yoga Journal ( But please keep us all posted, as I’m genuinely interested in how we can better help children grow into members of a caring community. Beautiful post, I very much like this open and sharing style of writing.

    1. Excellent question. Thanks for making me think it out! I don’t think it’s necessary to teach the concepts first; I’d rather they just experience the activities. It seems to me that teaching objective concepts while ignoring subjective realities is one of the big mistakes of traditional education. It reinforces and widens that inner divide between self and other, and it stifles creative thinking. Worse, it says that what “other authorities” think about something is more important than how I feel and what I value! I think they’d have a lot more fun just trying out things and then talking about how they experienced them. They can look for more understanding of the concepts later, when they’ve found a practice that intrigues them.
      Thanks for the link to the article in Yoga Journal. I’m going to read it after I finish writing this.
      I will keep you posted, but it’ll be a while as we’ll be doing this over summer vacation! And thank you very much for letting me know how you feel about this post. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but it was what came up for me yesterday so I went with it. I like it too. It’s so cool getting your feedback….like we’re having this lovely conversation in a quaint café over a cup of coffee!!

  5. Hi, I think most children are open to meditation, but like adults, different styles suit different personalities.
    I agree that active, or “moving meditations” can work very well. You can use different methods in pieces as you need: yoga is great, and when bonded with “drama” can really capture their attention. My wonderful maternity yoga teacher used lead young children in yoga by having them pretend to “be” each of the poses:a dog for down-face dog, the cat, the tree etc. Kids love it an really inhabit the space. Not exactly meditation, but from there they learn centering, focus etc.
    Harnessing creative visualization can be another very powerful approach. Children have such vivid imaginations they can really lose themselves in the process. Try starting with a relaxation method such as focussing on each part of the body, tensing and releasing, then go onto feeling the body heavy and sinking through the floor, then light floating on a cloud. From there you can move to imaging a flower, candle flame or sun inside them, in their heart, how beautiful it is etc. Then they can imagine giving this flower, light etc to someone. This is a great way to introduce children to lovingkindness.
    Another visualization can be to imagine flying above your body, then house, then city, then over mountains seas etc then into space, past the moon, into the stars…then to find their own special star. They can go in the star and feel warm and safe, and feel like they are shing like a star through space. They can be told they can go here whenever they feel sad or lonely.
    These are just a few, I am sure you can think of or find many more! One further suggestion though, is to make sure you finish every exercise with a centering and grounding. Tell them to come back into their bodies, then do something physical like shaking, rubbing, stamping their feet etc. Eating something also helps. Children are much more sensitive to mental/imaginative processes than us hardened adults, and they can get very spacey, even a little ‘lost’ and emotional if you don’t “bring them back” properly. And be sure to ask them how they felt later on, even pay attention to their dreams. Watch what happens to the seed you plant! 🙂
    I think it’s a wonderful thing you are doing. Best of luck!

    1. Amy, these are marvelous ideas! I appreciate your taking the time to share them. Your advice to finish with a centering/grounding exercise is especially helpful. It makes excellent sense but I doubt if I’d have thought of it on my own. I’ll be saving these ideas to use this summer. With warm thanks, Jeanie

  6. My background is in the silent worship of Quakerism – and we meditate – have “quiet time” with our kids (8 and 10) regularly. At the meeting house they draw quietly or mold little beeswax sculptures and produce amazing archetypal images in the gathered silence. The rod of Aesclipius, a corn god, a labyrinth.
    At home we give them soft music to anchor them when we sit together before school. We ask them to listen to their heart beats or to our heartbeats as they sit curled in our laps. And to pay attention to words or pictures that arise in their minds with the music.
    Our kids can sit comfortably in a large gathered silent Quaker meeting for 45 min – but with less “holding” from a large group they sit at home for daily practice for about 4-5 min. We try to do this as the last thing before leaving for school – shoes on, back packs zipped, coats in laps- so we can start the day w/o the usual strife of getting out of the house.
    Hope this is helpful!

    1. What a beautiful practice! And what an extraordinary gift to give your children before the beginning of a hectic day. I love it. Thank you! Jeanie

  7. My son attended a Buddhist kindergarten for a short period. It was part of a primary school and all classes took part in meditation at least once a day. In fact the whole school joins together for puja once a week! I asked his teacher how they go about introducing the concept of meditation successfully to 3 and 4 year olds. She explained that initially they would introduce a quiet time and use something to help focus the mind. This may be a candle flame, which the children would be involved in the ritual of lighting, or dropping a feather or silk scarf that would float slowly down. The children would be encouraged to focus on the object in order to focus their mind. As the children get older the practice is then extended to further develop meditation as a fundamental practice.
    My son is very boisterous and busy but he will always slow down and focus once we start the ritual of lighting a candle.
    I have also heard that mind jars are really great to help children quiet the mind. They are clear glass jars filled with water, a little glycerin and glitter. Shaking the jar and watching it settle is a good pre-curser to any quiet activity.
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    1. Artisanamama, this is wonderfully helpful! So that’s why I always light a candle before I write!! I’ve never heard of a mind jar. Sort of like a snow dome, isn’t it? I love these ideas and will add them to my growing list. I can’t wait to try them out with my grandchildren this summer! Thank you. Jeanie

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