When meditation became the big thing last year, just like yoga in the 1970s, my editor at Taiwan’s Commonwealth Parenting Magazine wanted me to write a piece about meditating with children. So I interviewed Jeff Zlotnik of Meditation Initiative for this assignment. He told me that kids can begin to practice meditation at the age of five, starting with a two minute session.
“Seriously? Does that really work?”
“Yes.” He then explained to me, while scientific evidence shows that human brains benefit from meditation sessions longer than 40 minutes, it is almost impossible to ask a 5-year-old to sit and meditate for that long. A two minute session is appropriate for a 5-year-old, and “even a short session like that helps relief stress and calm kids down.”
Calm kids down! The three words jumped out at me. My son was two years old, and there is surely a reason people call kids at that age “terrible two”.
“How about with a 2-year-old?” I asked, with hope. “You can try. I think it still helps. But the session probably wouldn’t last two minutes,” he said.
Good enough. I went home with a plan. And just as I expected, that evening when we started the bed time routine my 2-year-old tried to negotiate like always.
Son: “I want to brush my teeth for one more time! I have itchy teeth!”
Me: “Itchy teeth? Is that even possible?!”
Son: “I want another glass of water so that I can go pee-pee again!”
Me: “You’d just sit on the toilet forever if that means you don’t have to go to bed, wouldn’t you?”
Son: “I want two stories.”
Me: “I already read you three stories, now it’s time for bed. I’m going to turn off the light.”
And then—there it was! The two-year-old threw himself on the floor and started to howl.
Me: “Okay, okay!” I picked him up. “How about a game?”
Son: “Yes!” The howling stopped.
Me: “It’s called the breathing game. Let’s close our eyes and concentrate on our breath,” I told him.
Son: “What is concentrate?”
Me: “Just listen to your breath.”
He did. I closed my eyes, too. I could hear him breathing heavily on purpose, which made me want to laugh. I held the laugh in. After a while I felt his touch. “Mommy?”
I opened my eyes. He was looking at me, perfectly calmed down. “Are we still playing?”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s the point of the game—see who can keep breathing for longer.”
“I’m tired with breathing,” he said.
“Do you want to lay in your bed? I can sing you the dragon song.”
So he laid down and listened to me singing “Puff the magic dragon.” He fell asleep before I finished.
Our first meditation session lasted for 20 seconds! I was so proud of myself.
That night I told my husband about my great achievement. He scoffed at me, “You used a trick! I bet he’ll never play the breathing game with you again.”
But guess what—he actually did! The second night I used the same trick to calm him down and put him to bed. And the third night. And the fourth night. My son is now three years old. He finally figured out it’s a trick. “That’s not a game, mom,” he said to me one night. “You just want me to sleep.”
“It can be a game.” I told him. “It’s a game that helps you calm down.”
“Calm down?” Apparently the words are too hard to him.
“Makes you feel better when you are angry or upset.”
We still meditate together at bed time. Now my 3-year-old can meditate for one minute. My next plan is to find time to practice a 40-minute-session meditation for myself. Maybe I’ll get my husband to join me!
Learn more about meditation at the upcoming meditation conference.
What about you? Have you tried to meditate? Have you tried it with your child(ren)? Tell us about it!
Photo credit to Chin-long Ho.