Meditation if done correctly can be good to manage stress, anxiety, depression, focus, and overall well being. This is true if its original intent is upheld. For adults, it is an essential skill from which every human being can benefit. But, does meditation or meditative prayer work for children? And if so, what age should they start?
Between 3 and 6 years old, most children can start meditation and meditative prayer. However, their understanding of the religious nature, procedure, and purpose can be limited. Ages 7 – 10 should be perfectly able to participate on all levels.
There is not an exact age where every child becomes tuned into the concepts involved in meditation. But, that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t advocate and teach. Different ages respond differently to your preferred forms of meditation. Just as children learn in small, digestible chunks, meditation can be taught in light, fun, and reasonable ways for their developing minds.
Meditation For Children Can Bring Benefits
Children are full of energy. There is no changing that fact. It isn’t a bad thing either. The developing body and mind are undergoing structural and mental development at an alarming rate. It truly is a miracle that they can ever stay still for a moment or sleep through the night.
While we cannot reduce the fidgeting and bouncing off the walls 100% of the time, we can, as parents and teachers, teach methods for children to calm their bodies and minds, even if for a moment.
It might not be much, only a minute or two at a time, but these small chunks of prayer and meditation can instill the basic building blocks for understanding meditation and one’s own part in it.
Starting Small: Meditation For Children Ages 3 – 4
At this age, a child can learn some essential aspects of meditation, like; purpose, it’s religious history, and the focus parents wish to instill. While they can grasp these concepts, sitting still for up to 10 minutes is more than likely out of the question. To teach younger children these concepts, they must be met on their development level.
A three-year-old might have a hard time grasping the idea of anything more than historical stories or general focus for meditative activities. They will understand and be drawn to the facts that simple narratives interest them, and that doing things that are character driven truly make them feel at peace.
These character building activities are present in meditating on good and true things. These things should be designated by parents according to their religious convictions.
If you would like to learn more on how and why this is done, see my more comprehensive article here about meditation and its religious foundations.
In just one example from the Catholic Christian tradition of meditation and prayer, kids are taught to understand the life of Christ and focus on it as they recite prayers and petitions. This form of meditation is primarily centered on the ‘other’ and not the self.
To read about the dangers of extracting the practice of meditation from its original religious context, read my article here.
This same practice can be also coupled with videos and cartoon depictions of these events for kids to focus on. With parental guidance this simple exercise meets the children’s level, gamifying meditation so that it is an enjoyable yet instructive exercise that also lays a foundational understanding prayer and meditation.
Other religious traditions that utilize the act of meditation for their religious devotion include:
- Protestant Christianity
Simply utilizing techniques from these religious faith practices can actually be detrimental. Care should be used when turning a child’s focus inward and only on the self.
As noted in the study done by researchers at the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, California College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, children and adults participating in prolonged meditative activities for a period of months showed definite adverse effects. Intense self observation should not be the goal of meditation, especially without reference to solid truths to keep the practitioner grounded.
Learning The Basics: Meditation For Children Ages 8 – 10
One version of meditation comes from the ‘universal spiritualists’. This is seen by some as a ‘secular’ non-religious form of meditation. Yet, this is simply not the case. Teaching your kids in this tradition of meditation is also connecting them with an altered form of Buddhism.
With this in mind, and due to the extreme introspective nature of this form of meditation Deepak Chopra advises to wait a bit longer with children. His focus is not on the historical narratives and faith claims of established religions. His ideas are more directed to an individualized construction of a personal religion.
“There is no hard and fast rule.” Deepak Chopra has written on his website. There is no direct ruling on the exact age when a child is ready to fully take on meditation as a concept and as a practice, but Mr. Chopra believes that 8 – 10 years old is a prime age for children to begin learning his version of meditation.
There are today more modern adaptations of the Buddhist “Mindfulness” meditation.
To read more about the Buddhist foundations of the Mindfulness movement, see my article here.
For all forms of meditation, at this age children begin to develop a firmer grasp of abstract reasoning and how character, historical narratives, and truth claims affect their lives. They are also starting to interact on a more personal level and imitate their peers, teachers, and parents.
While they will likely have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, they may be more receptive to practices like a guided prayerful meditations (Catholic Rosaries) or textual and narrative based meditations (Protestant Christian scriptural or Buddhist ‘guided’ meditation).
One way to help children with the anxiety of the extended self control needed for meditation is to provide them with activities that focus on others. This book on Amazon called Rosary Meditations: The Gospel in Miniature with Scripture, Art, Coloring Pages, and Bible Stories for Christian/Catholic Kids is a fun way for kids to focus on the other instead of on the self.
Meditation With Your Child
Meditations with their parents before bedtime can be one of the most powerful teaching methods for this age group. Not only is it a bonding exercise with parent and child, but it can lead to increased focus and better sleep. Meditative practices with teachers and their fellow students in a religious context, school, and extra-curriculars can also be of great benefit to children 8 – 10.
Just be sure before your child attempts to participate in any form of meditative activity, that they are clear about the purpose and procedures you are comfortable with them utilizing. You should instruct your child by lesson and example on how and why meditation is attempted. This way you can model for your Little Treasures the values you wish to instill and guard against those you wish to avoid.
As a parent, one of the best ways to support your child in meditation is through prayer. Prayer is a form of meditation: it is “the relating of the self or soul to God in trust, penitence, praise, petition, and purpose, either individually or corporately” and “meditation” is “a form of mental prayer”, according to the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.
“There is research backing the idea that meditative prayer and traditional prayer can trigger the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain,” says Nicole Specktor from NBC News.
One way we include meditative prayer in our home is through daily family Rosary time. If you aren’t familiar with praying the Rosary, it is a repetitive prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The repetition calms the mind and relaxes the spirit. We’ve noticed our special needs son is particularly more calm after Rosary time, which makes it especially beneficial to do before bedtime.
Through prayer meditation, children can learn techniques to help regulate their tempers and to control their emotions better. However, they will still have limits to their comprehension of things like deep concentration, theological concepts of being (physical, spiritual, and mental), and purpose.
They may only be able to practice a few minutes of attentive participation per session or prayer time at younger ages. It might not seem like much to us adults, but even these short sittings can have great results. This is especially true if they are mimicking their most valuable role model: you.
Why Teach Children Meditation?
If you’re reading this article, you probably have your reason for wanting to teach your child to meditate. You might have more than one. Children have it hard enough with their growing, changing bodies and minds. On top of that, we’ve added schooling, hobbies, friends, bullies, and a litany of other stressors that seem to grow with every passing day.
As parents and teachers, we’d like to do what is best to help and give our children the tools they need to succeed, even without a complete understanding of how and why meditation can help a child in many ways. Even after 3 – 4 sessions, both kids and adults can see improvement in…
- Sleep: Meditation before bed can help your child and yourself to get better sleep. By calming the mind and slowing down the maelstrom of the day’s thoughts, rest comes easier. Better sleep has been shown to improve nearly all aspects of life.
- Stress & Anxiety: For a child, they may not understand that they suffer from anxiety and stress. For a child, coping with trauma, grief, pain, or any other manner of suffering can be confusing and scary. Teaching children, early on, how to meditate can give them a significant advantage for dealing with life’s biggest, most stressful moments.
- Self Esteem: When meditation is taught in the proper way, children can better see and understand each other as people. For kids that feel badly about themselves, prayer and meditative prayer can help them breakdown those thoughts and feel better about who they are. And of course, martial arts is a wonderful tool for supporting childhood self-esteem. To learn more, read here.
- Focus & Productivity: For some parents, this is probably the top of their reasons for teaching their child to meditate. Better focus leads to better scores on tests, better grades, better performance in sports, and after school activities. This also goes hand in hand with better sleep habits.
- Religious Devotion: This is by far the most popular reason parents want their kids to learn to meditate. Most religious forms of prayer and meditation focus on the other and put a child’s perspective in proper alignment with parental goals for character development.
Starting early and reinforcing and rewarding meditation practice can help a child succeed. It can be more comfortable for a child to learn these practices when taught at an early age, especially if you begin prayer together.
Children are more receptive, more curious, and able to take on new ideas without a cloud of internal and external biases blurring their vision and tinting their opinions.
So, while we certainly can’t expect them to sit peacefully for long stretches of time, they might surprise with their ability to accept and benefit from meditation, especially when part of family prayer time. To read more about children and meditation, check out this other article I wrote on the subject.