meditation for children

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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 newsDr. 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 …

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Brain study reveals mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children

EurekAlert: Mindfulness, described as paying attention on purpose and being in the present moment with acceptance, could be an effective way to help children avoid obesity. New research published in the journal Heliyon suggests that the balance in brain networks in children who are obese is different compared to healthy-weight children, making them more prone to over-eating.

Long-lasting weight loss is difficult; this may be because it requires changes in how the brain functions in addition to changes in diet and exercise. The authors of the study, from Vanderbilt University, say identifying children at risk for obesity early on and using mindfulness approaches to control eating may be one way to approach weight management.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase inhibition and decrease impulsivity. Since obesity and unhealthy eating behaviors may be associated with an imbalance between the connections in the brain that control inhibition and impulse, the researchers say mindfulness could help treat or prevent childhood obesity.

“We know the brain plays a big role in obesity in adults, but what we understand about the neurological connections associated with obesity might not apply to children,” explained lead author BettyAnn Chodkowski, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We wanted to look at the way children’s brains function in more detail so we can better understand what is happening neurologically in children who are obese.”

Chodkowski and her mentors, Ronald Cowan and Kevin Niswender, defined three areas of the brain that may be associated with weight and eating habits: the inferior parietal lobe, which is associated with inhibition, the ability to override an automatic response (in this case eating); the frontal pole, which is associated with impulsivity; and the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward.

They used data collected by the Enhanced Nathan Kline Institute – Rockland Sample from 38 children aged 8-13. Five of the children were classified as obese, and six were overweight. Data included children’s weights and their answers to the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire, which describes the children’s eating habits. The researchers also used MRI scans that showed the function of the three regions of the brain they wanted to study.

The results revealed a preliminary link between weight, eating behavior and balance in brain function. In children who behave in ways that make them eat more, the part of the brain associated with being impulsive appears to be more strongly connected than the part of the brain associated with inhibition.

Conversely, in children who behave in ways that help them avoid food, the part of the brain associated with inhibition is more strongly connected compared to the part of the brain associated with being impulsive.

“Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more,” said Dr. Niswender, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This is great from an evolutionary perspective – they need food to grow and survive. But in today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity.”

“We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity,” said Dr. Cowan, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Mindfulness has produced mixed results in adults, but so far there have been few studies showing its effectiveness for weight loss in children.”

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Mindfulness: helping youth learn to feel emotions and choose their behavior

wildmind meditation newsLynne Anderson, Youth Today: Neuroscience has revealed in recent years that trauma resulting from adverse childhood events can actually change the brain — for the worse — of a developing child. And their thought processes and behaviors can become impaired as a result. They may be less able to control their emotions than youth who have not been traumatized, and they may experience re-injury and disturbing flashbacks.

With about 17 million young people with a mental health disorder of some kind, according to the Child Mind Institute — and with this greater awareness about the lifelong effects of trauma — anxiety grows among youth workers who wonder how best …

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