By Faye Martins
In 2009, The American Psychological Association surveyed stress levels among parents and children between the ages of 8 and 17. Statistics showed that parents underestimated the severity of their children’s anxiety and the effect it had on their health and general wellbeing. There may be little we can do to create world peace and or a stable economy right now, but there are ways to help children cope with constant tension. After all, stress comes from the way we react to events, not the circumstances themselves.
Many children are learning to meditate as a means of controlling their reactions to peer pressure, performance anxiety, and the general angst of being a kid. Although there are many different kinds of meditation that work well for children and adolescents, mindfulness techniques have been getting a lot of attention. In spite of its roots in the Buddhist tradition, the term now covers a broad spectrum of modalities, and programs are even being introduced in some school systems.
One of these programs is Mindful Schools, an organization that teaches meditation to children and trains adult volunteers. Another well-documented, organized approach is the simple but effective coherence training produced by the Heart Math Institute. Both of these groups do extensive research showing the effectiveness of their techniques. Even mantra meditation can be learned at the age of 10 or older.
No matter what the method, all styles of teaching children to meditate have a few things in common:
• The language should fit the age and knowledge of the child.
• The style may be informal but should be geared to the level of the group.
• Progressive relaxation meditations or visualizations are often quite effective.
• Breathing techniques are beneficial but must be age-appropriate.
Teaching mindfulness to children involves three basic steps:
• Learning to actively focus
• Being in the present moment
• Not judging
Although children have active minds, they are often less inhibited and less resistant to change than adults. As a result, it may actually be easier for them to learn to meditate. When they are taught simple techniques that can be performed at any time, they learn the lifetime skills of centering, breathing, and visualizing. Their performance improves, they deal more easily with conflict, and they are more creative.
Teaching children to meditate is one way of changing our world at the ground level. Imagine a generation of adults who already know how to handle their emotions.
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