As more parents, grandparents, teachers and child-care workers find meaning and wholeness in practicing mindfulness, they are introducing it to children as well.
Meditation and yoga are becoming popular in classrooms and after-school programs. As children learn age-appropriate ways to meditate, they build stronger relationships, do better in school, and become better able to deal with strong emotions.
If a golden age of stress-free childhood ever actually existed, those days are long past. Bullying, parental divorce and academic pressures are regular life for many children. According to research studies and teacher reports, mindfulness practice can help them cope.
In one inner city elementary school, for example, teachers promote emotional intelligence through Yale University’s RULER program, which includes ten minutes of meditation a day. Children trained as peer educators lead their classmates in guided meditations such as “May I be free from suffering and stress. No stress.”
The program is resulting in improved academic performance, more positive relationships and enhanced physical and psychological well-being for the students.
And meditation doesn’t just help troubled children. As young people learn greater awareness of their thoughts, feelings, bodies and environments, they grow emotionally.
Mindful Schools is an organization that has brought mindfulness practice to over 300,000 K-12 students in 60 countries. The program takes teachers and counselors through a six-week course where they learn to cultivate present-moment awareness through meditation and yoga so they can share these practices from their own experience.
When they finish training, they bring a research-based curriculum in mindfulness to their schools and counseling centers. With age-appropriate activities that involve simple language and movement, the teachers explain mindfulness and teach the children how and why to practice it.
The course emphasizes practical skills. The children learn, for example, that “mindfulness is noticing what is happening in the present moment…. It can help us calm down when we are angry, sad, frustrated, or have any difficult emotion.”
The youngest students learn to sit quietly, pay attention to their physical sensations and listen to sounds, thereby absorbing mindfulness in a way they can understand.
As children get older, the program guides them in thinking and talking about locating themselves in the present moment and how this lets them contact inner sources of strength.
Preliminary results of a study involving 937 children in Mindful Schools programs demonstrate gains in paying attention, calming difficult feelings and showing greater caring and respect for others.
Learning this kind of emotional fitness early on builds a foundation for meeting life with wisdom and confidence. What a gift for both children and society.