The Impact of Meditation on Children’s Mental Health

the benefits of meditation on children's mental health

Learn how meditation can improve mental health

A recent CNN article stated that due to the expiration of pandemic relief funding, school districts in America will soon begin widespread layoffs of teachers, support staff, after-school care, tutors, and mental health service providers. 

In Denver, Colorado, loss of this funding threatens the continuance of a pilot program that began in 2021 which offers mental health services to 10 Denver schools. The program serves children who don’t typically see a school counselor or social worker. While schools scramble to find funding to continue their children’s mental health programs, one thing is certain: if the money doesn’t materialize, many students with anxiety, trauma, and other mental health challenges will struggle without support. 

Sadly, when schools implement budget cuts, or funding is lost, mental health services are often first on the chopping block, and it is the students who suffer. And even when schools are able to provide mental health support, the caseloads for providers are often high, leaving many children on long wait lists to receive services. 

While parents can do little to impact the expiration of pandemic relief funding, or to decrease the time their child waits for mental health services, they can take steps to support their child’s mental health by helping them create a meditation and mindfulness practice.

Is meditation accessible?

Meditation has virtually no barriers to entry. It’s free, can be done anywhere and anytime, and is easily adaptable for every child. Meditation practices are backed by hundreds of research studies. This means that meditation can and does help children (and adults) with mental health challenges like anxiety, stress, and depression.

Meditation for mental health

Despite being a centuries-old practice, meditation has been greatly studied recently in the scientific community, and the results are promising. If you are looking to positively impact your child’s mental health, consider the evidenced-based benefits of meditation.

Less anxiety

Because meditation calms the mind and body, quiets negative thought patterns and gives children the ability to observe and be okay with body sensations caused by fear (upset stomach, sweaty palms, racing heart), it is a perfect tool in your child’s mental health toolbox. 

There is often a misconception that meditation or mindfulness are meant to “distract” you from feeling angry, sad or scared. That is untrue. While meditation and mindfulness practices reduce the discomfort and physical sensations from big emotions, we want children to know that it is okay to feel big emotions. Meditation practices encourage children to feel all of their feelings, without judgment.  

For example, many parents will tell a child who is upset about something to “just calm down and do a breathing exercise.” This gives the message that the child’s feelings are not valid and that they need to be escaped. 

Anxiety is not a feeling that any of us, adults or children, enjoy experiencing. Being okay with the feeling is something that children learn in meditation, and then they know they have tools to bring their minds and bodies back to a state of calm. If a child is anxious, they might have a racing heart and an upset stomach. Meditation teaches them to recognize body sensations and accept them. 

They may think, “My heart is pounding because I am anxious.” This self-awareness or awareness of body sensations is powerful for kids. Instead of feeling out of control they know what is going on, why it is going on, and, if they have meditation skills, they know that they can use those skills to calm themselves down when they are ready.

Better emotional regulation

Meditation isn’t about denying a child’s feelings of disappointment or anger. Meditation accepts all things without judgment. But children who meditate, especially those who develop a practice, spending a few minutes a day in meditation, over time have better emotional regulation and less bursts of anger and tantrums.  

The reason for this is that meditation encourages us to be in the moment and process what is happening without judgment. The “without judgment” component is key. When a child notices what is going on, but develops the ability to not judge, or put an opinion on it, their emotional regulation improves. 

Time spent being mindful, or meditating, encourages children to accept the present moment, just as it is. They may learn to label things that are bothering them, without making a judgment.  

Without emotional regulation, kids often feel out of control. They are reactive and explosive, never knowing what is going to set them off. With the emotional regulation skills developed in meditation, kids are better able to manage their emotions. This results in them having less outbursts, tantrums, and feelings of depression.  

Children who have strong emotional regulation skills have better relationships with their parents, peers and themselves. They are more calm, even during stressful times, and exhibit traits like patience and resilience.

Improved sleep

Kids who meditate and practice mindfulness fall asleep quicker and have more restful sleep than kids who don’t. 

At bedtime many kids still have a lot of extra energy or are still processing concerns about the day or worries about tomorrow. This can lead to them fighting bedtime, being constantly in and out of bed for “one more drink of water” or an extra hug. 

Meditation is like that extra hug that kids need to feel safe, loved and comfortable. Like a soft warm blanket, meditation helps kids feel grounded in the space they are in and encourages kids to enter a relaxed brainwave state that helps them fall asleep. 

Many meditation practices can help children enter into a restful state that encourages sleep. Practicing breathwork, body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, gratitude, loving-kindness or metta meditation, and mantra or affirmation meditation all help kids feel calm and ready for sleep. When kids are rested and sleep well, they have improved moods, better energy and  better focus and attention. Good sleep is healthy for their minds and bodies and also boosts their cognitive development. 

Guided story meditations are the perfect way for children to practice various types of meditation which are woven into the narrative of a story. Like a meditative picture book, guided story meditations invite children to use their imaginations and visualize calming imagery within a soothing story. Meditative bedtime stories gently guide children into a relaxed state, and sleep soon follows.

⭐ Tip: Listen to Dragon’s Magical Forest, a soothing soundtrack originally composed to help facilitate sleep.

The connection between meditation and mental health

Meditation isn’t a cure-all for children’s mental health, but it is a practice that can greatly improve mental health symptoms and boost overall well-being. For example, better sleep can improve mental health and meditation can improve sleep. In this way, meditation is like a domino effect: it creates a chain reaction of benefits.

How to develop your child’s meditation practice 

Every parent wants their child to experience the benefits of meditation, but if they have never practiced meditation themselves, they may be unsure of how to teach the skills to their child. 

Here are 5 easy ways to help your child develop a meditation practice:

1. Find a calm, quiet place

While meditation can be done anytime and anywhere, it is nice to create a calming space you can designate as your child’s meditation place. Have your child help you fill the space with any comfort items like a soft blanket, pillows, a cushion, stuffed toys, or posters of nature scenes. In this quiet place explain what meditation is, and why it is beneficial for them. 

2. Explain meditation in a kid-friendly way

Kids don’t need to know that meditation is an ancient practice being studied by major universities around the world for its ameliorative effects on the mind and body. All they need to know is that meditation helps them feel good and calm inside. Kids love superheroes and superpowers. You can tell them that meditation is like their secret, superpower that helps their mind and body relax and feel good.

3. Make meditation real to them

Even adults don’t always understand what meditation is. For kids, make it real by giving them an explanation that makes sense in their world. Here are some creative visual ways to do that: 

Tell them that meditation is like being a mountain. Mountains watch time and seasons change around them and still remain a mountain. You might say that when they meditate they are like a tree, rooted deep in the ground. Their thoughts are like little leaves, blowing in the wind, but they can stay still and watch them, without getting upset.

Explain that meditation is like being a pebble in the bottom of a pond. The wind and ripples are on the top surface of the water, but the deeper you go, where the pebble lies, the water is still and calm. Their thoughts are like the wind and ripples, but they can always be like the pebble at the bottom of the pond, watching the disturbance at the top of the water, but remaining still underneath.

4. Accentuate the Positive

Share with kids some of the many reasons making time to meditate will benefit them. Say that it will help them feel more calm, happy and better able to manage big emotions like being angry or worried.

5. Keep it Short and Simple

Little ones as young as three years old can meditate, as long as the practice is simple and engaging. They might play a meditation game, like breathing balloon breaths, imagine being grounded like a tree, or visualize themselves as a sunflower, stretching toward the sun and swaying in the breeze. 

There really are no rules, like meditate for one minute for each year of your child’s age. Just let them take the lead. If they are interested and focused, keep going, if they are losing attention, stop. Meditating at bedtime is a good way to begin, and there are so many wonderful guided meditation stories that kids can enjoy while they are falling asleep.

⭐ Tip: If your child struggles to keep their attention focused, try listening to Pictures in the Sky.

Wee Meditate

Meditation offers children of every age the benefits of improved mental health. Even better, meditation is a skill that children can develop and grow, and one that benefits them for a lifetime. There is a reason why meditation has survived as a practice for thousands of years. If you’re looking for an easy way to bring meditation and mindfulness to your child, consider a subscription to Wee Meditate. With hours of original meditations, bedtime stories, mini meditations and music, Wee Meditate has something for every child.