Children and Meditation

Jo Stanley

One of my earliest memories is of my mother taking me to doctor after doctor, seeking an answer for the tummy aches I constantly complained of. Each one examined me, some conducted further tests, all of them reached the same conclusion. My problem was psychosomatic. I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was that I was in pain, and no one could help me.

I eventually grew out of those stomach pains, but I look back now and know that what I was experiencing was anxiety. Throughout my childhood it was labelled many things and manifested itself in many ways. Extreme shyness, self-consciousness, stage fright, a disconnectedness from those around me. I didn’t have the language to explain it, or even the understanding of mental health to know that it was possible to feel different. 

Now as an adult, through many strategies – therapy, exercise, mindfulness – I do know it is possible to be happier and more at peace with who I am. I’m sad for the little girl that I was. I wish I could reach back through time and hold her and tell it is going to be OK. In fact, I do this regularly in my meditation practice. But I also am determined to make a difference to this generation’s children, to the kids in my world, to my own precious daughter, Willow.

There’s a common misconception that life gets harder the older you get. That childhood is idyllic and stress-free, full of butterflies and fairies and playgrounds and superheroes and ice cream, and not much else. Adults often behave as though our responsibilities have earned us a monopoly on the darker emotions, like anxiety, stress, depression or just that intangible flatness.

But we know that being young is hard. That kids can be stressed, uncertain and fearful. And most alarmingly for parents, that they can feel this way without us even being aware. This is why mindfulness, and Smiling Mind, has become a regular part of the conversation and play that Willow and I share. My goal is to build the practice into her thinking, so that it is habit and she is prepared before things get rough, before the tummy aches take over.

The great thing is that kids are naturally inclined to mindfulness, and the self-acceptance it calls for. Unless someone teaches them otherwise, they are non-judgemental and non-critical – of either others or themselves. If you get them early enough, a sense of being present is all they know. I have been inspired by watching Willow’s complete focus on the thing she is doing and the moment she is in, with not one thought for the past or future (just try and get a 7 year old to hurry and you’ll know this!!). And their joyful sense of play and imagination connects them easily with the journey a mindfulness meditation takes you on. In fact, we can learn a lot from the way children engage with their practice. I have found it to be very moving to watch!!

Smiling Mind has been and continues to be instrumental in Willow’s self-discovery and growing resilience. She is a clever, creative and kind little person, but she is also highly sensitive. I’m certain that Smiling Mind, and the mindfulness practice that she’s developed because of it, has helped her be the happy little monkey that we’re blessed to have in our lives. It’s a happiness that I express gratitude for every day.

Smiling Mind