Meditation for Stress Reduction in Children
We all have to deal with stress at some point in our lives. It is almost an understatement to say that the past year has been stressful. Unfortunately, our bodies were not built to handle chronic stress, which, if untreated, can increase the risk of a variety of illnesses – from headaches to insomnia to diabetes and even heart disease. Stress can be particularly deleterious for children. Since the public health emergency was declared almost a year ago, children have been forced to endure the stress associated with remote schooling, separation from friends, cancellations of organized sports and events, and the constant unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Add to this the current tumultuous political climate and you are one straw short of breaking the camel’s back.
Given the deleterious effects of chronic stress on our minds and bodies, it is critical to be able to handle stress in productive ways. One way to reduce stress is through meditation. Meditation has been shown to have several health benefits and can counter the negative impacts of chronic stress1. Children can benefit from meditation as well – with research showing that it can manage symptoms of behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder2 and post-traumatic stress disorder3.
Teaching meditation to children can be challenging (think trying to convince a young child to sit still for any period of time), however, experts have a few tips. First of all, it is important to understand that there are several types of meditation methods available (see Table). Types of meditation include concentration, mindfulness, movement-based meditation, cultivation of positive emotions, and emptying. Some techniques may be better suitable for your child than others. For instance, movement-based meditation, such as yoga or tai chi, may be a better option for young children who don’t like to sit still.
Secondly, it’s important to take time into account. For preschool aged children, only shoot for a few minutes a day. Grade-school children should aim for 3-10 minutes a day, while teens can go up to 45 minutes a day. Additional tips include integrating focused breathing exercise into the child’s daily routines. Try incorporating breathing exercises during bedtime, to help kids wind down and relax. Remind them to stop and take a few breaths before or during stressful situations, like before taking a test. Children learning from home during the pandemic can use these breathing exercises to ease frustration and “zoom fatigue”.
Another tip for teaching children meditation is to focus on concrete sensations rather than abstractions. For example, according to the Barre Centers for Buddhist Studies4, telling young children to “focus on your breath” may be too abstract. Instead, focus on immediate sensory stimuli, such as the feel of clothing or the sounds of the room. From there you can guide the child to focus on the sensation of breathing or introduce more abstract emotional or thought processes.
It is also important to remember that children learn a lot from modeling the behavior of others, so if you want to encourage meditation you should practice what you preach. Why not benefit from a little daily meditation? There is enough stress to go around these days – we could all benefit from stopping to take a breather.
1 Gregoski MJ, Barnes VA, Tingen MS, Harshfield GA, Treiber FA. Breathing awareness meditation and LifeSkills
Training programs influence upon ambulatory blood pressure and sodium excretion among African American
adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2011;48(1):59-64. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.05.019
2 Bertin, M. Mindful Parenting for ADHD: A Guide to Cultivating Calm, Reducing Stress & Helping Children Thrive,
New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2015.
3 AAP SECTION ON INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE. Mind-Body Therapies in Children and Youth. Pediatrics. 2016;138(3): e20161896
4 Loundon, S. Teaching Meditation to Children and Beginners. Insight Journal, Spring 2004. Published online at
https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/article/teaching-meditation-to-children-and-beginners/. Accessed February 8 th ,2021.