By Marie Angeli Adamczyk, M.D.
Hallmark Health Medical Associates
Dr. Adamczyk cares for patients through traditional and holistic methods, including meditation.
“Mooooom, Daaaaad, I can’t sleep!” If this is a nightly occurrence in your house, you likely react in one of these ways:
- Get up at all hours to comfort your child
- Get upset and yell
- Get in bed with your kid, or vice versa
These scenarios lead to insufficient sleep for you, your child, and other family members. The night is disrupted and so is the next day. As an internist, many parents have complained to me about lack of energy, low efficiency, all-day sleepiness, being in a fog, and increased stress because of interrupted or inadequate sleep.
Sleep is imperative to well-being. To get to sleep, one must allow sleep. It is not automatic. So how can the whole family get that much-needed sleep? The answer is meditation – yes, including and especially for your children.
When children wake up in the night, they are likely lonely, afraid, or worried. It’s never too early in life to start reminding ourselves that we are in a safe and peaceful place right here and right now. No matter what happened or will happen – at school, the office, with teachers, classmates, colleagues, and family – right now, everybody is fine!
This is, at its simplest, meditation. Convinced of our safety and well-being, we allow ourselves to sleep. Meditating with family members enhances the safety message because it confirms everyone is there for each other.
2 simple meditation exercises for children
- Breathe with a furry friend. Ask your child to pick out their favorite toy or stuffed animal. Have your child lie down on their back and place the toy on their stomach. Ask the child to breathe in and out deeply and watch their little friend rise and fall with every inhale and exhale. With this method, your child is focused on something they love. In addition, “abdominal breathing” naturally brings the mind and the body to one place – here and now.
- Role play like an animal. Another fun way to catch your child’s attention is to ask them to make and sustain, for three to five seconds, animal sounds, such as roaring like a lion or buzzing like a bee. This practice makes them concentrate on the sound they are making, inevitably affecting their breathing to decrease stress. If you also ask them to assume the body posture of the animal they are imitating, they bring their body, thoughts, and breathing all to one place.
By practicing these exercises, children begin to feel safe without even thinking about it and allow themselves to sleep!
After playing these “games” with your kids for a while, you may notice that they start doing them on their own. They’ll realize that they feel better when they do these simple meditations. Instead of waking you up in the middle of the night, they may be able to self-soothe by using these stress-relieving techniques, which are as fun as they are effective.
Chest (intentional) vs. abdominal (natural) breathing
Before you try these exercises with your children, check out how well you breathe: Take a big, deep breath. What happened?
Likely, you raised your shoulders and puffed out your chest. This is known as intentional breathing, and it’s not an ideal way to breathe for long periods of time. When we use our chest and shoulder muscles to breathe, we are working against the diaphragm, and we’re only inflating a small portion of our lungs.
Natural breathing coordinates all muscles to bring air in with less work and is how we should breathe most of the time for good health. To breathe naturally, expand the abdomen when you inhale, then exhale by bringing your abdominal muscles in, causing the diaphragm to lift and push air out of your lungs. Meanwhile, allow your neck and shoulders to relax. You’ll breathe deeper and effortlessly this way.
Children naturally breathe abdominally but abandon this process when stressed. Our children may teach us a thing or two about natural breathing when observed in their natural, non-stressed state.
Practice what you preach
Join your kids as they do their meditation practice! Lie down next to your child and follow the stuffed animal on your child’s stomach with each breath, or borrow a stuffed animal from your child and actively participate. Not only is your child calming down but so are you!
Meditation is just as important for you as it is for children. Stress causes our bodies to activate a defensive response – fight or flight reactions – rather than focus on healing, nurturing, efficiency, and growth. Meditation can help prevent this reaction in everyday stressful situations and reserve it for true emergency situations.
If you’re new to meditation, incorporate your children and grow together in your practice. If you have been meditating for years, now is a great time to introduce your children to it and guide them in their practice as they get older. By making these exercises a fun, positive experience, you and your children can rest easy again at night and any time you or they feel stressed. Your children will appreciate the precious time you’ve spent together, and you will, too!