I'll admit it: I was skeptical about meditation. If you had told me a year ago that meditation would not only be something that I look forward to, but also a practice that my almost four year-old daughter could do with me, I would have laughed in disbelief.
I am a physician who believes in scientific evidence, so I wasn't easily swayed into trying a practice that originated thousands of years ago, before we had randomized controlled trials. Being a working mom of two, I was always rushing from one task to another and checking off my do to lists. I realized that I stopped being present in my life. I was moving through tasks, putting out fires, and not enjoying it. I knew there was so much joy and love to be present for, so I started to look at how to live in the moment and how to give and receive the beauty within and around us. I found that many of my patients were facing the same problem, and many of them developed chronic conditions in large part due to the way their minds and bodies were coping with stress. In an effort to help my patients and myself, I started reading books by Pema Chodron, Deepak Chopra and Ekhart Tolle, to name a few. I also reviewed scientific literature that addressed how meditation affects changes in the brain, helps us cope with stress, reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure.
After this thorough scientific and spiritual investigation, I was convinced. Instead of dipping my toe into the meditation pool, I went all in and signed up for an Ayurvedic and meditation retreat at the Chopra Center. Experiencing multiple meditations every day, a daily yoga practice and having the time to reflect and just be, was truly transformative.
I wanted to continue this practice at home. Being a working mom, coming home presented a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I envisioned myself trying to meditate unsuccessfully, while my then three year old daughter announces that she needs to use the potty, or my then one and a half year old son cries.
When I voiced this concern during my retreat, the teachers at the Chopra center suggested that I try meditating with my toddlers. In fact, one instructor told me that a child should be able to meditate for the same number of minutes as their age.
I was skeptical about being able to get three minutes of silence from my three-year-old. But then again, I had been skeptical of meditation to begin with.
Here is what I learned while introducing my daughter to meditation:
1. Accept your kids' early dismissals.
In the past, if my daughter would walk into my bedroom while I was meditating, I would briefly let her know what I am doing and that it is "mommy's quiet time". I would invite her to quietly sit next to me, or go to her room and play. She would always choose the latter. A few months into my practice, she walked into my closet during a meditation session (Yes, I started to meditate in the closet, please don't judge! It is the only part of the house that is semi-quiet.), and said, "I stay here. I meditate with you mommy".
2. Lead by example, but don't be too eager.
If they show curiosity in meditation, let them know how good you feel, and how relaxed and happy you are after meditation. Then, if they express interest, casually invite them to sit next to you or on your lap for as little or as long as they wish. If they accept, let them know that there is only one rule - while you sit together meditating, you both have to be quiet.
3. If they don't want to be there, give them an alternative.
Once you've invited your toddler to join you, make sure they know that if they do not want to sit with you, they have the option to play elsewhere (as long as there is someone to supervise, of course!).
4. Create meditation traditions together, while being flexible.
A few nights after the first time my daughter and I meditated, she pulled out a pillow, put it on the floor of her room, and covered it with a blanket. She said, "Mommy, I meditate here!" I was thrilled that she is already embracing mindfulness and meditation! Since then, we have meditated together on some mornings, but I remain flexible when she chooses not to. Remember to practice acceptance and non-judgment as part of your own mindfulness journey!
5. Meditation is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child.
I still remember the first time my daughter and I meditated. She sat on my lap and I put my arms around her. It was a beautiful bonding moment that did not require any verbal expression and I loved that she decided to join me in this practice.
6. You are doing your child a tremendous favor by introducing him or her to a mindfulness meditation practice.
There is a wealth of scientific literature on meditation and mindfulness-based practices in school-aged children. A review "Being Present at School" discusses significant improvement in cognitive performance, stress, resilience, calmness, self-acceptance, emotional regulation and social competence in school-aged children participating in mindfulness interventions. A recent study showed that high school students, who participated in a relaxation response curriculum, reported less perceived stress, less anxiety and increased use of stress management behaviors. There was also an overall increase in classroom productivity. Another study demonstrated that 6th grade students who were randomized to mindfulness meditation as part of their class were significantly less likely to develop suicidal ideation or thoughts of self-harm than controls.
If you have little ones and are considering meditation as a practice, or are already doing it, I would highly recommend introducing them to this powerful life tool. If only we all started meditating as children!