Teaching Mindfulness to Children
Imagine developing the skills to use your breath to calm and learn mindfulness techniques from a young age. Many adults learn these methods later in life, but what if parents, caregivers, and teachers incorporated mindfulness early on?
We all have feelings and emotions, no matter our age. Learning about meditation and mindfulness, how to center and calm ourselves during frustrating or stressful situations, is invaluable.
“It is important to teach mindfulness to children because it gives them healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress. Children have stress in their lives just like adults. In our modern society, stresses often come at us uninterruptedly, which gives us no time to reset and re-balance our bodies and minds. Learning mindfulness gives children the capacity for increased creativity and insight and also the ability to relax and re-balance themselves,” says Sujantra McKeever, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga.
Asking adolescents to sit still and quietly breathe may sound like an impossible accomplishment. The yoga classes, mindfulness, or mediation adults engage in might not have the same meaning to a child, which is why Sujantra and Kelly Derouin, an experienced Pilgrimage Teacher who works with kids have created a training to extend their knowledge to adults who want to introduce mindfulness to the youngsters in their lives.
We asked them to share their insights on teaching kids to practice mindfulness, how it works and why it’s beneficial for children, their families, and our world. Here’s what they had to say.
How is teaching kids to engage in mindfulness different than teaching adults?
Kelly: It’s different in many ways. Children have shorter attention spans and usually lots more energy! So a “meditation” won’t always be still, or quiet, or last for a certain amount of time. We move, breathe, and play and learn to understand our thoughts and emotions in more mindful ways. All the meditation practices we do with kids can be equally effective with adults and, in my opinion, are way more fun!”
Sujantra agrees: Teaching meditation to children and adolescents is in many ways quite different from teaching meditation to adults. The primary reason and main focus is of the teacher training we offer are the different stages of cognitive development during childhood and how this affects the meditation techniques that are effective for young people.
Pilgrimage of the Heart offers training on teachings kids about mindfulness. How does it work?
Sujantra: We divide our training into techniques geared at three different age groups. Infant through five years old. 6 to 12-year-olds and then 12 years through 18 years. Each of these age groups is unique in their stages of cognitive development, and hence the way they view themselves and the world differs. This directly affects the most effective meditation techniques. In adolescence, children develop the ability to think abstractly and become aware of their cognitive processes. This opens up a whole new dimension of meditation possibilities.
How did the two of you come up with ways to present this information to kids?
Kelly: I began working with kids about ten years ago. Most of my teaching experience has been in the Performing Arts, teaching Theatre, Dance, Music, directing plays, and running summer camps. When I earned my RYT 200 at Pilgrimage in 2017, I knew that I wanted to bring the practice of yoga to the kids that I worked with, and I started to incorporate mindfulness and breath exercises in all of my classes. I’ve sought out some training on my own such as the “Calm Kids” training with the Sean O’Shea Foundation, but most of what I use in my own teaching of Kids Yoga is a fusion of yoga, arts, and storytelling that I developed myself over the years.
I’ve taught several School Yoga classes through POTH, and in 2020 I launched Yoga Schmoga Kids Camp and offered an online yoga day camp for preschool and elementary age children. Now I’m currently serving as the Director of Wellness at Warren-Walker School in La Mesa, where I’ve had the chance to really hone my teaching skills and see that the lesson plans we share in our Kids Meditation and Mindfulness Training actually work!
What has surprised you about working with kids and their ability to incorporate mindfulness?
Kelly: I’ve been fortunate to witness so many surprising moments. I was recently teaching to 2nd graders, and one student became very upset at the end of class. I noticed that my student was struggling with some enormous and explosive emotions, and at this moment, was just inconsolable. Thanks to the knowledge that I have gained from developing this Kids Meditation and Mindfulness Training, I understood what was going on in his young brain enough not to try to reason with him. I simply handed him our “breathing ball,” a toy that we use as a visual aid during meditations, and I watched him soothe himself in a matter of seconds. It was just miraculous to see the practice transform someone right before your eyes. It really works!
What should adults consider when they’re teaching kids about mindfulness and meditation?
Sujantra: When adults consider teaching meditation to children, they should be aware of these different cognitive development stages. The techniques that work for adults will not necessarily work for children. I highly recommend taking a training such as ours or reading an authoritative book on the topic before teaching meditation to children. Once you understand these basic principles, it is extremely easy to share meditation and mindfulness with children.
Our children are the future, and teaching them at an early age to regulate their emotions and develop their highest capacities serves both them and the world they will help create. If you’re inspired to teach the children in your life about mindfulness, join us for a 7-hour Teaching Mindfulness to Children Live Stream training this May.
Click here to learn more about it, or check out the links below for kid-friendly online classes on YouTube and Pilgrimage Yoga On Demand.
- Sujantra and Kelly YouTube Interview
- 10-Minute Yoga for Middle School
- 5-Minute Yoga for Elementary School
- Classroom Yoga via Pilgrimage On Demand
Written by Kara Willingham for Pilgrimage Yoga