By Daniel Scharpenburg
Some people say meditation isn’t helpful to children. I humbly disagree.
A brief back story:
I created a meditation for kids from the ages of five to ten at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
This is really something I fell into because the people in charge of the children’s program left. While I didn’t create this program, I was in charge of it for several years now and I made plenty of changes to make it my own.
I’ve heard that most Buddhist temples don’t have programs for children. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but we have one. So when parents want to go to the Buddhist temple they don’t have to leave the kids at home. This is enormously helpful to them.
I remember being a child and really wanting to avoid going to church with my parents because it made me feel bored. I suspect that if the Rime Center didn’t have a children’s program, then the kids would be in a similar situation.
Below are some lessons I’ve learned from teaching meditation to children.
1) Meditation does help kids.
I was routinely informed by parents that their children had positive outcomes from meditation. These included: increased focus, ability to handle stress, overcoming insomnia, increased memory skills and many other things. More than once a parent of a child on the autism spectrum would tell me meditation helps their child. Anyone that says meditation helps adults and doesn’t help kids doesn’t understand. Kids suffer from anxieties and stress and fear, just like adults do. I had anxiety as a child and if I had had a meditation practice it would have helped me a great deal.
2) If parents don’t meditate at home, the kids probably aren’t going to meditate a the Buddhist temple.
I had to ask parents a few questions to really discover the significance of this. Once in a while a kid would come along who was just a natural—this isn’t a strict rule. There are plenty of exceptions. But for the most part, they learn it by watching you.
3) Some kids will simply not want to participate. It can’t be forced.
Parents would bring their children to my class, even when the child made it clear they didn’t want to go. Meditation classes are for kids that want to be there, but sometimes people do mistake a kids’ meditation class for daycare—a place to leave their kids while they meditate. I wanted the parents to have a chance to attend the Buddhist temple. Making sure they can without having to exclude their kids is part of the reason why I worked on this program. But I’m not a babysitter, I’m a teacher. So when the kids would stop participating because they didn’t want to be there, it would cause problems. The point is this: I can’t force someone’s child to meditate. No one can. They have to want to.
4) There will be disruptions. Patience goes a long way.
I’m sure this is equally true for any situation that involves working with kids. Children struggle sometimes. I have a lot of patience and that’s really important for teaching children to meditate. Children have trouble with getting distracted, just like adults do. An impatient teacher might get frustrated with a child who is struggling (and, I’m talking about kids that want to meditate and have trouble now, by the way). Now that I think about it, this is probably just as true for teaching adults meditation. Patience is part of a list of Buddhist virtues called the Six Perfections—a list of things we’re supposed to cultivate on the path to enlightenment. I think it’s on that list for a reason.
5) Given the proper instruction, children are good at it.
If you really think about it, children have an easy time being present in the moment sometimes. My daughter gets a total focus on cleaning her room (specifically on being upset that she has to clean her room) and just thinks about cleaning it, as though this moment of cleaning will never end. I don’t know if adults really view things in that way. So, what we have to do is help kids turn that kind of incredible focus inward. When we achieve that, it’s a wonderful thing to see.
If anyone has any questions about teaching meditation, feel free to send me a message.
But, I can’t stress this enough: don’t force them.
Daniel Scharpenburg is an authorized teacher in the Ch’an Guild of Huineng, in the lineage of Ch’an Master Xu Yun. He has been practicing Buddhism for over ten years. He created a meditation program for children at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City. He calls his teaching Far Out Zen. He considers himself a Zen Iconoclast and Radical, in the vein of Ikkyu Sojun and Layman P’ang. He is wary of systems of religious structure and authority. He believes in taking the Dharma out into the world, in teaching those who other Dharma teachers might not be willing to teach. He has studied under Buddhist teachers in several different traditions. Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook.
Editor: Dana Gornall