The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that kids today have high stress levels and to help them take a break, parents are encouraged to share meditation and teachers are urged to incorporate mindfulness training into their lesson plans. The AAP stood firmly in saying that the simple act of teaching kids how to stop, focus and just breathe could be one of the greatest gifts you could give them. “Anything that allows us not to be consumed with our thoughts and feelings and to be more present in life is a good thing,” said Peter Gibbs, owner of Body Mind Balance in Worcester.
There are many misconceptions surrounding meditation. Some parents think it is difficult, time-consuming or may be religious in nature. But the truth is, it is what you make it.
“Some people get deeply involved and some use it as a stress management technique,” said Gibbs. There are benefits for all ages and it can be a wonderful family affair. “It is about learning how to be with yourself in a new way,” said Gibbs. What works for one person may not be effective for someone else.
Experimenting is okay and helps you discover what is appropriate for you. Common methods include concentrating on words or images such as repeating mantras, practicing relaxation response or meditating on a prayer or image. You may also like movement-based meditation such as yoga, qi gong, tai chi or Sufi dancing.
Meditation or mindfulness can be done alone or in a group. “One of the best ways to start is to go to a place that does classes or has regular meditation because it is helpful to have somebody provide a little bit of guidance and instruction,” said Gibbs. Once you recognize how these practices can improve your life you will be more prone to incorporate them into your daily routine.
Meditation and mindfulness could even help make you a better parent. “The biggest benefit is parents can be present for their children when they are interacting even if they do not have a lot of time,” said Vayda Vallejo, owner at the HeartWell Institute in Worcester. When you are grounded in yourself and your body you can be open to another person and know their needs which may not always be expressed in words. “If we are attuned to people we are able to see clearly their nonverbal expressions in the tone of voice, gestures, movements and what they are feeling and the work of mindfulness is infused with compassion and kindness,” said Vallejo. It starts with you. “If we are not self-compassionate we cannot give that compassion to our children, friends and family.”
Kids pay attention even when you may not realize it. “At a center for women with addictions, moms were there with their children and it was beautiful to see the kids reminding their parents to just breathe,” said Vallejo. Little kids may prefer mindfulness activities that involve more movement; it does not come natural for everyone to sit still -- especially young children. “You can increase the meditation so 5 minutes goes to 10 minutes and just pay attention to your mind and breathe and bring your mind to one object,” said Vallejo. When you face a difficulty or feel out of balance, pause and take a breath.
Remember the acronym STOP. “S for stop, T for take a breath, O for observe and P for proceed,” said Vallejo. Observing refers to noticing if your body is contracted or rigid and being open to what is here now, softening and then proceeding. “We see stop signs everywhere and take that moment to come back to ourselves and refresh ourselves,” said Vallejo.
Getting out in nature can be fulfilling. “Kids are attuned to nature and the sense of wonder is innate so take time to look at flowers and cultivate that,” said Vallejo. The idea is to be as present as possible and pay attention to your senses by taking in the tastes, colors and smells that surround you. “It is the thought of the child getting upset to see clouds come and go and you do not have to act on your angry thoughts,” said Vallejo. Emotions come and go just the same. When you are mindful you recognize if you are happy or peaceful or mad.
The American Academy of Pediatrics found benefits for ADHD, anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems and eating disorders. They also noted physical benefits -- meditation calms the nervous system and decreases stress hormones. Studies showed mindfulness meditation benefits for gastrointestinal symptoms, obesity, headaches, high blood pressure, pain sensitivity and immune function.
Children who are considered “challenging” can particularly benefit from mindfulness. “Mindfulness was found extremely helpful for kids that were considered difficult and bullies because it controlled their anger and worked with their anxiety when they took tests,” said Vallejo.
Want to incorporate more mindfulness in you life? Start with the little things. “Take a mindful shower and experience the warmth of the water, fragrance of the shampoo and soap and feel the touch of the water on your skin, the temperature and luxuriate in that activity,” said Vallejo. You can also be more attentive when walking. “When you leave the house bring awareness and attention to the soles of the feet and the sensations when you walk on the carpet, concrete or grass and be present,” said Vallejo. At meal time you can do similar. “When eating take 5 to 10 minutes to be present and see the fragrance, taste, temperature and color and all that is there,” said Vallejo. There are phone apps that can also you help you get started, or resources at the UMass Center for Mindfulness.
Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power, is dedicated to providing information on women’s and pediatric health topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.