Meditation can offer many benefits to kids — calming them down, quieting the mind, and helping them feel more settled and centered. If you’re curious about meditation, but aren’t sure where to start, check out these easy at-home meditations for kids. In this excerpt from the new book Unplug, author Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder and CEO of the popular Los Angeles-based meditation studio Unplug Meditation, explains what a great tool meditation can be and how to make it easy, accessible, and fun for kids.
You can hear all the science and experience all the phenomenal changes within yourself, but when you see meditation at work in your child, it takes it to a whole other level.
Sitting still and breathing isn’t something that sounds particularly fun to kids, and most have to be talked into trying it. I can honestly say that talking my boys into it is one of the best things I’ve done as a parent. All three of them tried meditation reluctantly, but once they sat down and did it, they liked it (kind of like a lot of adults I know). Do they practice now every day? Not at all. But do they know how to use it on demand, as a tool to self-regulate when they need it? Absolutely. When I used to tell my son to turn off the Xbox, he’d throw a fit and toss the clicker at me. Now he takes three breaths and just walks off. So much better than flinging electronic equipment, right? If my meditation studio burned down tomorrow, it would have all been worth it just for that!
I asked Laurie Cousins, who teaches our kids’ meditation classes, to explain why it’s such a beneficial practice for kids. Here’s what she had to say:
Meditation can be a wonderful tool to help children regulate themselves emotionally, to be less impulsive, and to bring their attention to something they want to focus on rather than being distracted. It teaches them to breathe when they’re feeling anxious, and to see their anger and work with it in that moment. It helps them get in touch with their body, and their heart. They can find a sense of kindness and connection to themselves and others, which helps in their social relationships.
It’s very helpful for middle and high school students, specifically. They understand the sense of self and self-consciousness; to be able to be aware of their inner dialogue is so valuable. The more they tune in and explore this relationship with themselves, the more they can hear their own wisdom and insights and choose actions that are helpful to them as opposed to carrying out unconscious habits that are not.
I see it all the time: children being able to turn to themselves in a healthy way versus seeking un-healthy ways to manage what feels unmanageable. With the stressors, structure, and expectations that go along with being a kid today, meditation gives them ways to slow down and identify that they’re stressed, that there’s pressure, and to choose how to attend to it in a helpful way.
There are two “tricks” to getting your kids to meditate. The first is to live by example. As Laurie says, “Kids watch what we do more than what we say. If they see us taking the time to pause and breathe and do something that is quiet—or even just focusing on one thing at a time, consciously—they will observe and want to do it, too. As soon as we impose it on them, they feel our agenda and don’t want to do it.”
The other way to get your kids to meditate is to make it fun. Try short, guided meditations, or even a walking meditation if they’re super high-energy. To most kids, words like calm and stillness sound like torture. There are so many great meditations for kids out there, but here are my three favorite to get you started:
MEDITATION IN A JAR
This meditation is a great visual tool to show kids how their brain works when they’re amped up versus when they’re calm. Plus, it’s sparkly and tactile—two things most kids love. Here’s how to do it:
- Fill a ball jar with water and glitter. I’m partial to purple glitter, but use any color they love! Be sure to screw the top on tight.
- Explain how the mind is a jar and that the glitter represents thoughts and feelings.
- Shake it up and explain how this is what the mind looks like when you are angry, or in a hurry, or stressed.
- Ask your child to slowly breathe in and out along with you, and show them how when we breathe, everything settles and becomes clear—just like the water in the jar.
THE CALM DOWN A CRYING CHILD MEDITATION
This meditation comes from Susan Kaiser Greenland, the author of the highly acclaimed book The Mindful Child. Susan is considered one of the leading teachers of mindful awareness for kids and teens. This meditation comes from her acclaimed Inner Kids program, and is a brilliantly sneaky way to get your child to slow down their breath and get calm:
- Have your child imagine that they are standing in a garden filled with beautiful roses. Tell them to smell the flowers around them, inhaling through their nose as long as they can.
- Next, have them place their pointer finger out in front of them at arm’s length. Tell them to imagine their finger is a candle and to blow gently to make the flame flicker. The goal isn’t to blow out the candle, but to exhale slowly and gently for as long as possible.
Do this ten times and watch the shift.
THE GO TO SLEEP ALREADY MEDITATION
This is another Susan Kaiser Greenland meditation that is frequently taught by Laurie Cousins, who runs our kids’ program. It takes the torture and stress out of bedtime and turns it into a calming routine that kids really respond to. Do this practice for three minutes and they’ll slip into sleepytime like magic.
- Ask your child to choose a favorite stuffed animal.
- With your child lying down in bed, place the stuffed animal on their belly.
- Have them watch the animal rise and fall as they breathe in and out. The thoughts and worries of the day will disappear as they focus on their toy and breathe.
Excerpted from UNPLUG: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers by Suze Yalof Schwartz, Founder and CEO of Unplug Meditation Studio.
Suze Yalof Schwartz is the founder and CEO of Unplug Meditation. For decades she was a fashion editor, director, and stylist at Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, and Glamour. She has appeared on “Today”, “Good Morning America”, “The Early Show”, and “The View”, as well as “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, and CNN.