Kids with Anxiety Part 3: Meditation

November 16, 2016

So far in this series on helping kids with anxiety, we looked at breath practices and yoga poses.  In this post, I’ll share meditation ideas that help kids with anxiety.  

There are lots of different types of meditation.  For a great resource that includes audio and text guided meditations, check out Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness.  This is a practical, non-religious book that teaches different types of meditation for everyone!  It is written for adults, but I’ve used many of these ideas with kids.

According to Sharon Salzberg, there are three main skills needed for meditation: concentration, mindfulness, and lovingkindness.  We will start with concentration.  First, we work on sustaining the child’s attention on something.  This can be focusing on the breath using one of the breath practices, focusing on an object (like a candle, stone, or statue), focusing on the sound of your voice as you read them a guided meditation, or some combination of these.  Guided meditations can help kids sit still longer because they are similar to listening to a story.  The objective is to keep the attention coming back to the focus.  Even though minds will wander, we keep coming back to the focus.

Many kids have trouble sitting still so it’s important to have realistic expectations for how long they can sit.  You may start with only 30 seconds and work your way up to 3 or even 5 minutes!

If the child has trouble sitting up straight (yoga poses will help with this) then, it’s okay to let her sit in a chair or against a wall or lay comfortably on the floor or bed.

Meditating is often easier for kids after they’ve moved around some.  They could do some of the suggested poses, take a walk, sing, or jump on a trampoline.  We want to set them up for success and letting them burn off some of their energy out first is a good start!

Once the child has moved around, have him sit or lay comfortably.  My daughter really enjoyed sitting and having a candle to focus on during meditation.  My son preferred to have his eyes closed and lay down.  Guide the child through a few breaths with longer exhales or use one of the breath practices.  The first few times you try meditation with your child, you may want to use a script for guided meditation.  Avoid music if possible because it can be distracting, especially for beginners.

What follow is a sample guided meditation script.  Feel free to change or adapt this to fit your needs.  You can read it word for word, but the parts in parentheses are just helpful hints for you.

Sample guided meditation script:

Take a comfortable seat or lay down on the floor.  You can close your eyes or soften your gaze downward (or look to an object if you’re using one).  (pause)  Today, I’m going to guide you in a short meditation.  This just means we’ll sit quietly and think about our breath for a few moments.

Begin by taking a deep breath in through your nose and slowly letting it out through your mouth. (Do this with the child.)  This is called a cleansing breath.  Let’s do that one more time (do this with the child again).  Now, begin to breathe in and out through just your nose (unless they have a cold or sinus issue).  You can breathe in for a count of 4 (do this with the child) and out for a count of 6 or 8 (Sometimes it helps if you exaggerate the sound of your breath so they can hear you a few times.)  (pause for a few breaths)

Begin to concentrate on the way your breath feels.  Think about the air coming in your nose, going down your throat, and filling up your chest.  Notice it leaving your lungs, coming up your throat, and going out through your nose.  (pause) Pay attention to the temperature and feel of the air as it comes in and goes out.  Notice if it feels cooler or warmer at different parts of the breath.  Notice if the air feels dry or moist.  (pause)

(If this was enough for your child, skip to the closing.  If not, you can continue here.)  Think about your breath and notice where you feel your breath the easiest.  It might be in your nostrils, your throat, your chest, your belly, or somewhere else.  Bring your attention to this spot. (pause) Think about how the air feels when it passes this spot.  Notice if the temperature or feel of the air changes. (pause)

Think about your belly.  You can even put your hand on your belly if it helps.  Feel your belly rise and fall as you breathe.  (slowly in time with the child’s breath) Rise and fall.  Rise and fall. It moves like a wave at the beach.  The air is coming in and out.  In and out.  In and out. (pause)

(Closing)  Begin to take deeper breaths.  (pause)  Wiggle your fingers and your toes.  (If the child is laying down, have him roll onto his side and lay for a moment or two before sitting up.)  Bring your hands to heart center. (pause) When you’re ready, you can open your eyes.  Thank you for allowing me to lead you in your meditation practice today.  The light within me honors the light within you.  Namaste. (The child repeats the word “namaste,” which means the light within me honors the light within you.)

When you’re ready for a more advanced meditation with your child, you can try Lovingkindness meditation or one of the great ones from Sharon Saltzberg’s book.

How did these techniques work for you and your child? Do you have any anxiety relieving ideas that work for your kiddo?

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