Guest blog by Danish author and Life Coach Gitte Winter
The world we bring our children into is spinning so much faster than the one we were raised in. The digital age comes with endless possibilities for the next generation but must be handled with conscious care for the mental wellbeing of our children. A seemingly open window of opportunities can also overwhelm and break down an over stimulated mind.
The key is to find a good balance and give our children foundations that steady them in the storms and waves of life. But how can we do this when we can barely steer ourselves?
Every day our children are bombarded with impressions: screens, the internet, over-scheduling of activities, all information overload. Add to this busy school days and for many children, divorced parents and the constant ‘to and fro’ between two homes and it’s not surprising to learn that more children than ever before are suffering from stress, depression, anxiety and sadness.
It is said that a child today receives as much stimulus in one day as their great grandparents did in an entire year. We can’t stop moving forward but we can teach our children how to navigate the hasty world they are growing up in.
Sleep, or rather the lack of it, is one of the first indications for parents that something might be off kilter. In general children today sleep one hour less than we did 25 years ago and according to BBC Panorama, NHS data shows that hospital attendances in England for children under 14 with sleep disorders have tripled in the last 10 years.
So not only are our children more liable to information overload, they also have less sleep and consequently time, during which to ‘reboot’ and recover – which presents a problem for many a child and of course their parents.
Teach children to navigate
For thousands of years meditation has been a way for people to unwind, relax and connect to inner and outer sources. In many countries in Asia meditation is not something you do – but a natural part of just being and breathing. Today meditation is common practice among adults in the Western world.
Just as we as adults have come to understand the benefits of meditation, mindfulness and yoga for our own, wellbeing, what better gift than to impart these teachings to our children? And the good news is – they learn quickly – because they already know and practice mindfulness when they play freely.
Meditation with children is a gift to both
Having taught children to meditate for quite some time through classes, one and one sessions, and through writing my books I have often been pleasantly surprised by how natural meditation is for children. And I often hear from parents who in turn are surprised by how quickly their children get into meditation. In many ways a child’s natural approach to meditation means they often become the most wonderful teachers of meditation to their parents. A role reversal of sorts and this is because in many ways children are much more mindful than adults. When we give them time to just play they can sit and draw, build LEGO or play in a treetop for hours, getting lost in a world created by their imagination. Having just reached my 40th birthday I would give my right arm to be able to tap into my ten year old self’s sense of imagination – sadly long forgotten.
When a child uses imagination for play it comes naturally to them and this inner creativity provides wonderful tools for meditation. Some children visualise images while meditating, some feel their way, while others use their other senses to find their way into a mindful state or world of imagination. This type of ‘imagination training’ is a way for children today to hang on to their creativity whilst growing up.
Children often know their senses much better than adults, who all too easily switch to a greyish autopilot way of viewing, sensing, and feeling the world.
Enjoy the beginner’s mind
In mindfulness we train to view situations with a beginner’s mind. Well, many things are new to children and so they naturally see the world through a beginner’s mind. Many challenges within families arise because children are much more in tune with their senses and because many things are new to them: the taste of broccoli, tight pants, rough material against the skin, wet socks, smelly hallways, dark basements – all these things can be challenging for children and especially for sensitive children.
But rather than dull these senses in our children and teach them to switch on their autopilot, what if we were to let our children teach us to turn our autopilot off and awaken our senses again? Open our hearts and minds? Would we see an improvement in the number of adults presenting with stress and depression? I’d like to think we would. And how would a generation of less stressed parents affect our children? I often think about root cause and effect and wonder if by meditating today we can’t change our collective outlook for tomorrow.
Only once we have learned to navigate ourselves can we hope to equip our children with the tools necessary to do the same. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation can be taught and my preferred way to do this is by reading aloud. The bond created and the space shared between parent and child during a moment of bedtime meditation can be so full of love that it can heal and restore both individuals.
Nothing is more healing than the love of a child for a stressed parent and nothing is as comforting and safe as the love from a parent to a child. When children feel safe, loved and comforted, they can heal themselves and their loved ones even more. It is a wonderful spiral of love.
Your child as your teacher
I strongly advise you to seek inspiration from your children when they meditate. Watch them, listen to their details, feel their presence and love – and let them teach you how to meet the world with a more open heart and mind. That is often what makes children such wonderful teachers – their beautiful state of mindfulness and heartfulness. Let your child guide you to awaken your senses, open your mind and listen to the songs singing in your heart through meditation.
By teaching our children to truly love themselves through meditation and letting them discover and become conscious of all the beauty they have inside, I truly believe we can change the world. Together. With love.