I just finished teaching a six-week meditation and mindfulness course at a local middle school. I’ve got to admit, middle schoolers are a tough crowd! But I wanted to share a little insight with parents trying to initiate a meditation practice with a 6-8th grader.
Don’t sell it.
Take it slow.
Curb your expectations.
Practice more, teach less.
Know when to give it a rest.
Though we may hear people preach otherwise, meditation is not “the answer,” so it’s important that we don’t sell it that way to our budding teenagers. They’re too smart to be fooled and too skeptical to be convinced that sitting still for 20 minutes a day will make all their troubles melt away. Meditation is simply a tool to help kids slow down, diminish stress, and strengthen their connection with higher thinking.
Meditation isn’t a magic pill, it’s an open door – as imperfect and unreliable as anything else. When we teach an illusion of perfection and reliability, kids have no soft place to land when, not if, they screw up. So while we teach our kids how to meditate, let’s be sure they know that meditation is a way to soften those hairpin turns along life’s amazing journey, not straighten them out completely.
A lot of shifts can take place when a person (of any age) begins meditating. We can prepare our children by letting them know that Self-discovery can be hard work. Incredibly rewarding, but hard just the same. They should talk with parents or counselors about emotional or physical pain that arises during meditation. It’s all part of the healing process, and nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed by.
Each week of my middle school course, I’d begin by asking eagerly, “Who meditated this week?” and a hand or two (or none) would pop up in the circle. One boy practiced daily with his family. One girl practiced because she was bored while waiting for her sister to take a shower in the morning. One boy practiced because he was bored on the school bus. (Boredom is by far the most common form of inspiration amongst all my students. So if you’d like your children to be more mindful, bore them.)
While some of my middle schoolers warmed up easily to a sitting meditation practice, others were stone cold from giddy-up. Just because we, as parents and teachers, believe in this stuff, doesn’t mean the kids will jump on board, even with modern science giving its two thumbs way up. But with the right stimulation, we can encourage interest. We can try different approaches until we meet our children where they are.
Example. One day, do an eating meditation, the next a sensory game, the next a mantra-based meditation or maybe something guided, the next share space with a pre-teen without saying a word and see what happens. Reading the child’s non-verbals while teaching is instrumental in maintaining connection. And we must be prepared that some lessons will float belly-up. Just counteract it with a sure-fire winner the next time, be it a sitting meditation or mindful activity.
Several of my students did not like the feeling of stillness. The first few times we meditated, I kept my eyes cast down to the floor and observed at least four pairs of legs pumping non-stop for the duration of the sittings. When the closing bell chimed, children reported feeling peaceful, anxious, antsy, happy, sleepy, or calm. Some reported physical discomfort. These are all totally normal responses to meditation. When we meditate, we slow down enough so that we can become acutely aware of what’s *really* happening in our bodies.
So for those students who jittered incessantly, we just took note of that, and I explained to them that our bodies aren’t used to being consciously still and rarely get our minds’ full attention. So when we meditate, our bodies enthusiastically jump on the opportunity to be heard, and it can make us feel uncomfortable. “She’s listening! Now’s our chance! Look at me! Pay attention to this! Houston, we have a problem!”
So while sitting, we might notice back pain that we’ve been ignoring, a tightness in the belly, or clogged sinuses. We might notice a buzzing in our ears, a dull headache, or just that we’re really tired. And most likely it will get worse before it gets better. But in the big picture, it can only get better, because once we hear our bodies communicate, we can work on relieving the discomfort by making choices that make our bodies happy.
But let’s get real. Meditation is not for everyone. One of my students was really bothered by the experience of meditating. She did not enjoy it at all. She bravely shared that she couldn’t stand sitting still and felt incredibly anxious every time we meditated and just wanted it to end. But she still came to the class every week, making me believe that even though she wasn’t keen for this particular practice at this particular time, there was something about the idea of self-soothing that appealed to her. The important thing is that she knows peace is a choice. The experience is hers now, and she can do with it what she wishes, be it now, in five years, or never. It’s all okay.
From mine to yours,
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