Calm and Relaxed: Encourage Mindfulness through Meditation
By Laura Shovan
Kate Murphy’s children have always listened to music at bedtime. When the
Clarksville software engineer’s boys were younger, it was lullabies. Now
Quentin, 10, and Branden, 8, listen to a guided meditation CD.
Indigo Dreams, by Lori Lite, features
soothing music and stories that describe children interacting with animals.
Some of the tracks include breathing exercises aimed at helping kids relax.
“It gives them a way to think about how their body is and how their body
works,” Murphy says. “I think it puts them more in tune with how their body
changes when they get upset.”
The demands of school, sports, and activities can be stressful for children,
causing everything from difficulty sleeping to full-blown anxiety.
“Most of us are speeding to go someplace,” says Dianne Connelly, founder of TAI
Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel. “Where is the actual stopping
and looking at the colors and seeing what’s going on?” she asks.
Some parents, such as Murphy, are teaching their children meditation skills to
combat that stress.
It’s Mindful Awareness
Susan Kaiser Greenland is founder and executive director of
InnerKids, a Los Angeles-based outreach program. In her national workshops for
parents, she replaces the term “meditation” with “mindful awareness.”
The games and activities that Greenland uses with children, “are derivative of
a contemplative practice,” she points out.
By training children to give themselves quiet time, Greenland helps them “see
the world clearly and notice their experience as it’s happening, with
In other words, practicing some form of meditation can help children think
through a situation—such as being teased—rather than going with
their gut reaction.
Greenland reports children giving her feedback such as “my brother was bugging
me so instead of getting in a fight I went to my room” after learning to
There are many different forms of meditation. Traditional seated meditation
involves counting breaths or repeating a special word or phrase called a
mantra. If your child likes to move, he or she might prefer walking or dance
Whatever you try, Greenland warns, “I just can’t emphasize enough how taking
adult practices and just trying to do them with kids can be counter-productive.
They weren’t intended for kids.”
If your daughter is bored with seated meditation, try something else, but keep
in mind that it’s really important that this stuff is fun for youngsters,
Janet Smith, of the Maharishi Enlightenment Center in Baltimore, stresses that
kids learn best with support from home.
According to Smith, “Parents are the models of behavior, the models of love and
patience and so when a parent can offer that [meditative practice] to the
child, the parent can offer him or her so much more [guidance].”
Greenland adds that meditation doesn’t have to be mysterious.
“The great thing about it is it’s stuff you can do at the dinner table,” she
In her workshops, Greenland teaches parents to ring a mindfulness bell when the
stress level gets too high. She says that families who have a mindfulness bell
in their own home have reported that the kids will ring the bell to get
everybody’s attention—and have the family slow down and listen.
Smelling the Roses
Parents aren’t the only ones seeking
meditation for the children in their lives. InnerKids also offers workshops for
Greenland, who periodically offers workshops in Washington, D.C., says, “There really
is a growing movement of people who want the children to get a strong academic
balance, but there have to be ways to create a little more balance in their
lives and a little less urgency.”
She likens mindfulness techniques to “smelling the roses.”
Meditation has been purported to do more than lessen stress. Some scientific
studies have found that meditation might be helpful for everything from asthma
to ADHD. (Before jumping in, however, be sure to talk to your child’s
pediatrician. These studies can be inconclusive and do not condone stopping
regularly prescribed medicine.)
Greenland recently was involved in a research study at UCLA on teens with ADHD.
She observed that, when using meditation techniques with a child with special
needs, the teacher brings a quality of attention to the child that is very
accepting and non-goal-directed.
Smith also notes a study of kids with learning disabilities who meditate: “They
felt more settled. They felt like they could focus better,” she says.
Quentin, Kate Murphy’s 10-year-old, has Tourette syndrome. His psychologist
recommended meditation “to teach him to learn to relax himself. The Tourette
gets worse when he’s stressed,” Murphy says.
She finds that the Indigo Dreams CD acts as a support for the
relaxation techniques her son has learned during therapy.
And the CD has also helped relieve 8-year-old Branden’s anxiety.
“My younger son tries to do what they tell him to do [on the CD], which is
control your breathing,” Murphy says. “If you remind him to [use the relaxation
techniques] then he will go sit down and do it.”
Branden adds, “I like the story [on the CD] because it makes you feel relaxed… It
makes me go to sleep quicker.”
Whether you try tapes, books, or other methods, Greenland says, “the first
thing you need to do before you’re really able to slow down is to learn to pay
InnerKids uses games for children, so learning mindfulness is fun. In one
exercise, children rest on their backs with a stuffed animal on their bellies.
By watching the toys rock up and down with the breath, kids learn to tune into
“It’s about relaxing into the floor and then—without doing anything to
their breath, without changing their breath—they just notice the rising
and falling of their abdomen. The weight of their object will help them gather
their attention,” Greenland says.
Connelly agrees that simple exercises in sight, sound, and touch can be calming
for a child.
“All of life is here in this little moment of touch. Each of those practices is
a meditative practice that calls us to being here,” she says. “Kids really love
knowing that… they’re here and they matter.” BC
Resources for Meditation for Kids
A variety of resources are available for
parents interested in learning more about meditation. If you opt to take your
child to a meditation class, be sure to do your research. Talk to the teacher
ahead of time. Ask about price, time commitment, what is involved in training,
and whether you are allowed to sit in on the course.
Baltimore native Susan Kramer offers two websites on meditation for kids—www.susankramer.com
and www.bellaonline.com. As BellaOnline’s meditation editor, Kramer has clear,
specific instructions for teaching children seated, dancing, and walking
meditation. Also look for her series of stories about children who meditate.
Kramer, who now resides in the Netherlands, writes on her website, “Breathing
like this calms them down when they are stressed or angry… it is like their own
first-aid kit for regaining calm and control of themselves.”
Dianne Connelly, founder of TAI Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel,
has written a book for families, Alive and Awake: Wisdom for Kids
(Tai Sophia Publications, 2004), which has some
simple exercises that parents can do with children both to relax and to draw
attention to the senses.
No matter how it is done, meditation should encourage kids to, “Stop. To pay
attention to the awe,” when they look at the world around them, Connelly says.
“To me, that’s the whole point of meditation.”
©Baltimore’s Child Inc. Nov 2007