When I first considered introducing meditation to children I had a hard time believing it was possible. How could I get these kids who were running around and bouncing off the walls to sit still with their eyes closed? And then I kept asking myself, why would I want to? Kids should be kids. One of the reasons they're so enjoyable is that energy that they have. It reminds us that we were once so energetic and playful. So why would I want to counteract it with something else, something that's perhaps too disciplined for them?
The answers presented themselves as soon as I started to ask myself why I use meditation. To calm myself, to let things go, and to change my perspective. The first time this came in handy was when Landon (7) and Amy (5) wouldn't stop arguing. It was one of those, "No it was you!" arguments that never sees an end and continues to escalate. I told Landon and Amy that on the count of three we were all going to take a deep breath and when we breathe out we were going to let the argument go. On three... deep breath in.... and breathe out. And it's gone. Really. They stopped talking about it and returned to watching the movie.
This simple breathing exercises may not seem like I'd introduced meditation, because I never even used the word meditation. I believe it's important to teach meditation to kids in the same way we teach them all you things, however. In small increments, bit by bit, until they choose to explore it fully on their own or not. You wouldn't sit a 7 year old down with a calculus book and then wonder why they didn't see the value of it. You'd start basic, with 1+1, and go from there. Nor would you ask a 7 year old to sit silent for an extended period meditating on their breath.
This concept can be done in reverse also. One of the fastest ways kids learn is from repeating our behavior. If the phone is ringing non-stop, the dinner is burned and there's a chorus of kid's screams echoing in the halls take a moment to sit down and breathe. Just sit down in the living room and do some relaxing breathing, maybe with calm music on. Your kids will ask what you're doing, and you can then explain that a great way to handle stress is meditation. They might ask more questions or they might not. Rest assured they took something in though, and that they'll probably surprise you with what they learned.
Another time I introduced Landon to meditation was during a difficult time in school for him. I had him play the color meditation that I created for first time and young meditators. He listened without doing anything for the first half and then picked it up on the second half. I do believe this is important also when introducing meditation - not to say that anything wrong was done. When he told me he didn't follow the breathing right on the first half we both laughed. I'm quiet sure if I'd been serious about it and told him to do it again, and to try harder to listen, he wouldn't be in any hurry to meditate again. When introducing meditation (really to anyone, not just kids) it's important to emphasize it's for their benefit and not about doing something right or wrong. Laughing is a great result.
One last way is to put on some very slow and quiet music and ask them to sit and color. You can then use this as a way to introduce the concepts of meditation, and discuss it in a way they can relate to. Tell them how listening to calm music and focusing is considered a form of meditation. Grownups like to focus on their breathing, and then tell the child the benefits of meditation. If you can find more ways to bring it up that's great, because the more you introduce the idea the more they'll want to explore it on their own. You'll never know when the urge to try it further will kick in. They could be grown ups themselves, sitting at their desk stressed out and suddenly remember a simple breathing exercise you showed them.
I do hope that one day we begin to talk about meditation with kids as much as we now talk about the importance of exercise. Since it's rather new to show kids how to meditate we'll be learning as much from them as they do from us. We'll have to let them show us what's a good way and what's not so effective. It really makes it a wonderful journey to be on, as it's in it's purest stage. There are no books telling you what's right or wrong or what to do or not to do. You can just do what feels right for you, and as our kids teach us how to teach meditation we'll all benefit. It's a perfect balance that we rarely find - both sides are students and teachers.
All in all, have fun with it and don't forget to laugh.