meditation for children

“Loving Kindness,” by Deborah Underwood

loving kindness by deborah underwood

Rather than purchasing from Amazon, please buy from the publisher (MacMillan),  Indiebound (US), or Bookshop.org (US and UK).

Deborah Underwood kindly sent me a copy of “Loving Kindness” in late 2021. As a fan of books on lovingkindness for children, and as a fan of Deborah’s work in particular, I fully intended to write a review in the new year — of 2022. That was more than a year ago!

The delay has nothing to do with the quality of the book. The book is excellent. It’s just that 2022 was intensely busy for me, and I set the book aside. And then (literally) set another book on top of it. And then another. And another. It was only after I’d published a review of Sumi Loundon Kim’s “Goodnight Love: A Bedtime Meditation Story” that I remembered Deborah’s book and dug it out from the pile on my coffee table.

So here’s my belated review.

First, the author. Deborah Underwood has been a firm favorite in my household for years. My daughter was addicted to the Sugar Plum Ballerinas series of books, which have Whoopi Goldberg’s name on the cover but which Deborah wrote. I read these to my daughter at bedtime for months, and we both loved them. It was only later that I discovered that Ms. Underwood had written books for younger children as well. Her “Quiet Book” and “Christmas Quiet Book” were absolutely lovely, but came out a little too late for my own children to appreciate.

“Loving Kindness” is another of her books for younger children.

It’s a beautifully affirming book, with charming illustrations by Tim Hopgood. The text, Deborah told me in an email, was “inspired by the lovingkindness meditation, which I’m pretty sure I first learned from you.” It’s lovely to hear that I (might have) had a hand in inspiring this book. I’m not particularly good at teaching meditation to children, and so it’s wonderful to have others take up that task.

The text is designed to be read to a child by an adult. “You are a blessing,” it tells the child. “You are beautiful just as you are. You are, loved and you love.”

What a lovely message for children to receive!

Title: “Loving Kindness”
Author: Deborah Underwood, Tim Hopgood (illustrator)
Publisher: Henry Holt
ISBN: 978-1-250-21720-2
Available from: MacMillanIndiebound (US), or Bookshop.org (US and UK).

Children are also reminded that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that mistakes are how we learn.

They’re reminded that they dream and dance, and feel the sun’s warmth, and that they touch the earth that connects us all. The book teaches them empathy by reminding them that others too dream and dance, and feel the sun’s warmth, and touch the earth that connects us all: This little girl does. And animals. Everyone does.

We’re all connected by the fact that we all do these things. And above all (or below all, supporting everything) is the earth, connecting us. That universal connection to the earth is a vital part of this song of connection.

Just reading through this book on my own helps evoke kindness in me. It even helps me be more forgiving of myself for the long delay in writing this review.

My kids are in their teens now, and too old (or think they are) for a book of this kind. But I will be treasuring my copy of “Loving Kindness” as I await the opportunity to read it to a younger child.

See also:

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“Goodnight Love: A Bedtime Meditation Story”

goodnight love, by sumi loudon kim

Please order books locally, rather than from Amazon, through, Shambhala, Indiebound (US), or Bookshop.org (US and UK)

A little while ago I received an email from Sumi Loundon Kim, telling me about a new bedtime book for children that she’d just had published. The book is an adaptation of a traditional Buddhist loving-kindness meditation, which helps us to develop warmth and kindness, and to take our own and others’ well-being into account.

Sumi’s family practiced this meditation every night for five years as they snuggled in bed. She went on to teach it to other families. and discovered it was a popular approach that many parents and children ended up doing together.

When my review copy arrived, my heart melted! The warmth and love embodied in the cover image by Laura Watkins is simply stunning. In fact, the illustrations are gorgeous throughout: full of life and love.

Sumi Kim’s text gives a lovely, child-friendly guide to bedtime loving-kindness practice. There are a few pages that describe a series of brief practices that prepare the ground for kindness to arise: arriving by acknowledging that snuggling we’re in bed; grounding ourselves with deep in and out breaths; relaxing (“soft and heavy, melting into our resting spot”); and connecting with kindness by placing our hands on our hearts and picturing a warm glow radiating outward.

Title: “Goodnight Love: A Bedtime Meditation Story”
Author: Sumi Loundon Kim, Laura Watkins (illustrator)
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-61180-944-2
Available from: ShambhalaIndiebound (US), or Bookshop.org (US and UK).

As is traditional, the loving-kindness instructions begin with adopting a kind and loving attitude toward ourselves: “May I be healthy. May I be safe and protected. May I be happy and peaceful.” They then widen into cultivating kindness and love for our families and loved ones, our friends, including friends who are hurting, and then out yet further, into forests, mountains, oceans, and the whole world.

In case you think it’s odd to wish a mountain well, the illustrations make it clear that we’re considering not just a hunk of rock, but all the living creatures that live on and around it. The same is true for forests and oceans.

Finally — and this was a really lovely transition — we come back to the intensely personal, as the adult reader wishes their snuggling child well: “And now, little one, it is my turn to share my love for you: May you be healthy. May you be safe and protected. May you be happy and peaceful, always and forever.”

The return from the universal to the intimate was very effectively done. This must be so pleasing to any child, reminding them that out of all the billions of being in our world  they have a very special place in their family.

My children are about the same age as Sumi’s — they’re both teenagers – and beyond the target age for this book. I really wish something like this had been available when they were younger, because I’d love to have had the experience of sharing it with them.

I wholeheartedly recommend Sumi Loundon Kim and Laura Watkin’s book to all parents of young children. Books like this are rare. They are important tools for bringing more love and kindness into the world.

See also:

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What the death of an animal can teach us about the power of ritual

a ceremony to help children process a death

I am fascinated and touched and inspired by the deep love many children have for wild animals. It’s a love that seems natural, and sometimes more immediate than what many adults (including me) have to offer, at least on the surface.

Yesterday, my nine year old saw from the front porch that a raccoon had been killed by a car on our street. It was a terrible sight. She called her siblings out to see. The littler one, who is six, was very sad: “I just feel so bad for the raccoon.”

I felt bad too, and tried not to let the experience become a symbol for all the sadness I have about these sorts of things.

I suggested we light a candle for the raccoon. It occurred to me that the driver who hit the raccoon probably felt awful about it, so I shared that too and wished that person well.

And then, though that was all I had at the moment, my kids took it from there.

They gathered a wreath, the nine year old making the label “raccoon,” and the 6 year old making the picture above, which includes an assortment of vehicles with a big X through them.

“Why can’t everyone just ride bikes?” he asked (although in the picture I think the bike got an X too.)

This whole thing happened and the candle burned for the next couple hours and they told dad about it later … and all of this helped them work through their feelings. Me too.

It was a sad situation, but I felt comfort witnessing their feelings of love and connection, their care for another living being and for one another, AND the seeming effectiveness of this ritual.

It taught me about what I can do to manage my own sadnesses. It taught me that these rituals and gestures can be effective and meaningful. And it taught me about the loving kindness that lives inside us and is right there to tap into.

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Tips for raising spiritual children

Three tips from psychology professor Mark Holder

Helping your children receive the mood-boosting benefits of spirituality can involve adopting some very simple approaches to life. Psychology professor Mark Holder recommends three ways you can help your children get started:

  1. Encourage them to volunteer for a cause that matters to them.
  2. Plan acts of kindness, which adds to personal and communal meaning.
  3. Encourage them to increase their awe and appreciation of beauty. One way is to help them create a photo album of things they find special or beautiful.

Six tips from Dr. Sonja Lyumbomirsky

Dr. Sonja Lyumbomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” suggests encouraging your children to:

  • Count their blessings: Either on paper or out load, making lists of things they’re grateful for helps children get the big picture.
  • Cultivate optimism: Practise finding one positive aspect in each negative circumstance, no matter how small.
  • Practise acts of kindness: Studies show there is an instant and lasting good feeling to be gained from helping others.
  • Replay and savour life’s joys: Pay close attention, take delight. and go over life’s momentary pleasures and wonders – through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another.
  • Learn to forgive: Ask your child to choose one person who they believe has wronged them and work toward finding a way to let go of the anger and hurt.
  • Create regular rituals that remind your child that there is a higher purpose to life and about the things they share with every being on Earth

This information was originally published in an article in the Ottawa Citizen in 2010. Unfortunately that article is no longer available online, but I thought that the advice was worth sharing. See also, The Tao of Happy Kids.

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Why teaching kindness in schools is essential to reduce bullying

Lisa Currie, Edutopia: Phrases like “random acts of kindness” and “pay it forward” have become popular terms in modern society. This could perhaps be best explained by those who have identified a deficiency in their lives that can only be fulfilled by altruism.

It seems there are good reasons why we can’t get enough of those addictive, feel-good emotions, as scientific studies prove there are many physical, emotional, and mental health benefits associated with kindness.

As minds and bodies grow, it’s abundantly clear that children require a healthy dose …

Read the original article »

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The power of mindfulness — in schools

Mindfulness is increasingly being used in schools to help children deal with stress and to improve their ability to manage their emotions. It also helps with focus, attention, and memory. In some schools where mindfulness has been taught, detention rates have decreased dramatically — even dropping to zero.

One school in Baltimore, Robert W. Coleman elementary, has replaced detention with meditation and is seeing astonishing results. In this video, Ali Smith, founder of the Holistic Life Foundation, joins the Emmy award-winning daytime talk show, The Doctors, to discuss the program he helped set up.

This CBS This Morning clip also discusses how mindfulness is being brought into the school. Twice a day, more than 300 students participate in a 15-minute long “mindful moment,” where they focus on breathing. What’s most remarkable about this program is that it’s being done in a neighborhood where kids are traumatized by violence and prevalent drug-dealing. Ali, and his brother Ahmed, are from the area and wanted to bring about social change.

At the time the second video above was published, the program had spread to 14 schools in the area, reaching around 4,000 children.

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How mindfulness practices are changing an inner-city school

Donna St. George, The Washington Post: At many schools, the third-grader would have landed in the principal’s office.

But in a hardscrabble neighborhood in West Baltimore, the boy who tussled with a classmate one recent morning instead found his way to a quiet room that smelled of lemongrass, where he could breathe and meditate.

The focus at Robert W. Coleman Elementary is not on punishment but on mindfulness — a mantra of daily life at an unusual urban school that has moved away from detention and suspension to something …

Read the original article »

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Mindfulness can help combat test anxiety

Dr. Caryn Richfield, Montgomery News: With the school year well under way, many high school students are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of tests looming on the horizon. Some teens are taking AP courses as early as ninth grade and many are simultaneously taking an intense load of rigorous classes, which can make test preparation quite daunting.

These academic demands are compounded by the additional stress of preparing for standardized tests, such as the SAT, SAT subject tests and the ACT. Our teens are constantly having to study and retrieve information under pressure, over and …

Read the original article »

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Replacing detention with meditation

James Gaines, Upworthy: Imagine you’re working at a school and one of the kids is starting to act up. What do you do?

Traditionally, the answer would be to give the unruly kid detention or suspension.

But in my memory, detention tended to involve staring at walls, bored out of my mind, trying to either surreptitiously talk to the kids around me without getting caught or trying to read a book. If it was designed to make me think about my actions, it didn’t really work. It just made everything feel stupid and unfair.

But …

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Mindfulness goes to school

wildmind meditation news

Dr. Susan Mathison, Inforum:

Our kids are back to the routine of school. The energy is high as we walk through the hallways, with lots of chatter and sharing events from the prior day. But high energy doesn’t always translate well to listening and focusing on tasks at hand in the classroom. Some schools around the country are turning to mindfulness as a strategy for improving attention and helping kids make better choices.

Mindfulness was a term first used in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and is defined by him as paying attention on purpose to the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. It has some roots in Buddhist meditation traditions but is now used in medical and therapeutic settings around the world.

Mindfulness is being used in the workplace (Google and more), in the U.S. military, in professional sports, and even on Capitol Hill, where Congressman Tim Ryan used mindfulness techniques during weekly staff meetings.

Studies show promising effects of mindfulness training on mental health and well-being: improved attention, reduced stress, and better emotional regulation and an improved capacity for compassion and empathy. It’s no wonder that mindfulness has fans in education.

Since England led the way in 2007 by adding mindfulness instruction, many similar programs have started in the U.S. to train teachers in mindfulness curricula. Among the largest is Mindful Schools. Mindful Schools has found that not only do students benefit, but teachers also benefit with lowered stress, more connection with students and higher job satisfaction.

California educator and author of “The Joy Plan,” Kaia Roman, uses the following exercises with students:

The Bell Listening Exercise

Ring a bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped. After, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise is fun and gets kids interested in sharing their experiences.

Breathing Buddies

Hand out a stuffed animal (or another small object) to each child. If room allows, have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and float away. The presence of the Breathing Buddy makes the meditation a little friendlier, and allows the kids to see how a playful activity doesn’t necessarily have to be rowdy.

The Squish and Relax Meditation

While the kids are lying down with their eyes closed, have them squish and squeeze every muscle in their bodies as tightly as they can. Tell them to squish their toes and feet, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, suck in their bellies, squeeze their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads. Have them hold themselves in their squished-up positions for a few seconds, then fully release and relax. This is a great, fun activity for “loosening up” the body and mind, and is a totally accessible way to get the kids to understand the art of “being present.”

The Heartbeat Exercise

Have the kids jump up and down in place for one minute. Then have them sit back down and place their hands on their hearts. Tell them to close their eyes and feel their heartbeats, their breath, and see what else they notice about their bodies.

Mountain Breath

This can be done sitting or standing. It is good to have the leader do this, too! As you inhale through your nose, raise your arms as high as you can and bring your palms together high over the top of your head. Imagine you are as tall as a mountain. As you exhale through your mouth, bring your palms together in front of your chest.

The class curriculum may already be set for this year, but these may be fun activities that can be done at home, too. My son has long been a fan of deep-breathing exercises. Usually it’s something I suggest if he’s feeling antsy, but on a few occasions, he’s thought to do them himself.

There are lots of great resources available. Harvard clinician Dr. Christopher Willard has several books, including “Growing Up Mindful.” Amazon of full of great resources. I bought a CD called Indigo Ocean Dreams for my son. It has some peaceful stories about bubbles, ocean waves and breathing. Also check out websites like MindfulTeachers.org and CalmerChoice.org.

Just breathe and be present. It’s good for kids, teachers and parents.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo.

Original article no longer available »

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