Practicing meditation is healthy for children

Practicing meditation is healthy for children

“Practicing mindfulness meditation has nothing to do with childhood games. For a child it means exactly the same thing as it means for an adult: learning a new way of life, the art of living in the present and enjoying it.” With this, Jeanne Siaud-Facchin, clinical psychologist, advises us to guide our children and teenagers on this path of self-discovery.

Meditation shows them how to single out their own emotions

Children, even teenagers, are unaware of their emotions and unable to sort them out “because we simply do not teach them how to do this”, the psychologist points out. Yet, at the end of the day, we are the ones surprised/confused/outraged at the result: our children “equate what they feel with what they are”, and the consequences are reflected in the increasingly uniform attitude displayed by the new generations: insecurity, lack of self-confidence, sadness, restlessness; a feeling of displeasure at their own “way of being” (mistakenly identified with the way they feel); having no reference points, or choosing reference points that are either unsteady or stuck in negative thinking.

Well, practicing mindfulness meditation provides the “raft” that enables our youngsters to save themselves from the waterfalls of these fathomless emotions, which they can finally identify and stand up to.

Meditation helps them open up

If the certainty of being able to rely on their own inner resources is so comforting for adults, how heavily does this self-assurance weigh when it comes to children or teenagers? The question is of course rhetorical; however, the psychologist does not hesitate to ask it, in order to amplify the answer – the answer she provides from a specialist’s point of view, and the answer we give to ourselves, which is one and the same: meditation helps children build their self-confidence and find out that they can rely on their own abilities, by reconnecting with their own self. A plus and a first step towards opening themselves up to others. Showing no sign of fear.

It enhances their concentration

We live in “the zapping age” – fast “channel” switching is our way of living: speed, multiple skills, the ability to deal with as many tasks as possible, to go from one thing to another or to focus (apparently) on all of them at the same time: adults have demanding jobs and attend two or three university graduate programs or even a master’s degree program, all in parallel – unfortunately, most of the time literally in parallel – with a family life: husband/wife, children… As for our kids, their attention is shared between winning prizes in school competitions or sport contests, and being proficient in using the latest generations of gadgets. Dispersed attention, scattered thoughts, an inner void.

Stop! Take a break! Actually, take as many breaks as possible! By relinquishing restlessness for at least a few minutes, we give our inner Self the chance to catch its breath. Thoughts get clearer. The ability to concentrate is restored. “Research has shown that practicing meditation stimulates creativity and flexible thinking” – Jeanne Siaud-Facchin acknowledges.

The key to succeeding: do not force their hand

Children should not see it as an obligation. Forcing a child to practice meditation would defeat the intended purpose, which is spiritual relaxation. It would be the path to certain failure. “How about…” – the idea should “come” in the form of a suggestion if we want to stand a good chance. As long as we do not impose anything upon a child (and all the more upon a teenager), they will be much more willing to give ear to our advice.

“Now wait a minute, what are we doing here? Manipulating our children just to calm them down so we can have more peace and quiet in our homes and lives?” Another rhetorical question. And a little bit cynical, as psychologists label it. Their reply comes readily: when you undertake the task of convincing your children to practice meditation, you show them that you are trying to share with them more than the moments you spend together in the car, on the way from school to the football club or the dance classes.

What is the right age to do this?

According to psychologist Jeanne Siaud-Facchin, we should not encourage children under eight to start practicing meditation, as they are too “unseasoned” for meta cognition (“knowing about knowing”, the mental activity focused on our own mental processes). Let us not forget that mindfulness meditation is based on meta cognition. We may teach a child under eight how to practice relaxation and focused attention. And adjust the length of each session according to his or her abilities.

One starting point, two approaches

The psychologist identifies two approaches to teaching children to practise meditation. Both begin at the same point: the point where we sign the children up for a meditation workshop. After that, they will go separate ways:

  • they can either attend a several weeks’ program specially designed for a certain age group (one hour a week for the youngest, one hour and a half for the older children and teenagers) under an expert’s guidance, without the parents being present (the parents will be allowed to join the workshop for no more than 5 to 10 minutes a day), or
  • do the sessions at home; each session will start with a few minutes of “study” with the family, in the living room or garden – the place is irrelevant – and, after the parents leave the room, the expert will guide the little ones, step by step, through the meditation techniques.

“Children who take part in these workshops often say that getting familiar with meditation techniques might be a good idea for their parents as well”– states the psychologist. For more tranquility, inner peace and harmony in the family, of course.

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