Have you ever experienced intense worry about a situation you are in or what will come next? Does your heart race or do you breathe faster whenever this happens? This is anxiety, a normal part of life that can affect anyone, even small kids and teenagers. After all, growing up comes with many changes that cause emotional distress. But, when unchecked, anxiety can isolate and exhaust a young person. If your kid, student, or relative is struggling, there are many ways you can show your support. Introducing meditation for children with anxiety is one of these options. Discover how this ancient practice can help young people find clarity of mind and live life more fully.
You might remember the wonderful adventures of your childhood and teenage years. Of course, not everything was perfect, and you probably went through many tests and challenges. Perhaps you remember feeling worried during the first day at school or before a big exam. Nowadays, your kids, students, or any other young person in your life may be going through similar or even more challenging circumstances. Typically, after the stressor passes, they feel much better and “go back to normal”. However, if these anxious feelings persist for a long time, their well-being is seriously affected.
So what exactly triggers anxiety in kids? There are several factors, including lots of rapid changes in a short time, financial stress, being bullied, and circumstances that are not typical of their age range such as lockdowns. These situations lead to specific types of anxiety, including social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and separation anxiety.
Anxiety symptoms in children
Anxious kids have a hard time understanding and expressing what they are feeling. This can be confusing for you as well, especially if you aren’t familiar with anxiety. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for.
- Angry outbursts
- Nervous behaviors (nail biting)
- Trouble sleeping and nightmares
- Constant crying
In older children:
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of confidence
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoiding certain situations (school or hanging out with friends)
- Inability to cope with daily challenges
- Changes in appetite
- Lost of pessimistic thoughts
It’s important to bear in mind that every child is unique and it’s a combination of factors that causes anxiety symptoms. For example, specific situations, objects, or settings may trigger particular symptoms. You can take note when your kid shows which signs. Does she or he becomes irritable before going to school? Do they act nervously when they are away from you? Anxiety could be the cause.
Helping children with anxiety
When experiencing fears, stress, or anxiety, a kid either seeks reassurance in their parents or teachers, or simply shuts down. In any case, try to put yourself in their shoes. Listen and encourage them to talk freely about whatever it’s bothering them or what they are feeling. Creating a safe space, free of any judgment, will make a positive difference. It will also allow the two of you to find solutions together.
During an anxious episode, experts recommend practicing relaxation techniques. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Count slowly to five as you breathe in. Then, count to five as you breathe out. If it seems too long, opt for shorter counts. If it works, encourage your child to breathe out for a few counts longer. Other techniques such as journaling, listening to relaxing music, or visualizing a beautiful and calming environment also help.
Should you get professional help? Of course! Especially if your kid’s anxiety is intense, persists, and makes everyday life tough. Your family doctor, pediatrician, or psychologist will be able to provide you with guidance and the best course of action. If anxiety is interfering with school, you could also let the teachers know.
Meditation for children with anxiety: how to start?
Meditation and mindfulness-based interventions have lots of positive benefits. According to scientific studies, meditators are much better at managing stress, depression, and anxiety. In fact, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found 47 trials that demonstrate the link between meditation and less anxiety. While most studies focus on adults, promising findings suggest that kids also experience the positive perks of meditative practices. For example, a group of primary schoolers in Italy went to mindfulness-oriented meditation lessons for several weeks. Meanwhile, another group from the same school received lessons on emotional awareness. By the end of the study, the young meditators showed greater psychological well-being, including lesser anxiety.
Overall, kids who meditate are calmer, more creative, and self-confident. Sounds great, right? But how can you get your kid to meditate? It all starts with you! Most children adopt habits and behaviors through modeling, that is observing what their parents or guardians do. If you are a regular meditator, meditate visibly in front of your little one. This will surely spark their curiosity. If you are new to this kind of practice, perhaps it is a good time to learn and sharpen your meditation skills.
Experts also agree that meditation should become a daily habit. Children who practice meditation regularly experience more benefits and are better able to manage anxiety. And the wonderful thing is that they are smart and fast to adopt new habits. So try to make it a fun activity they look forward to. Be creative! Get them a meditation buddy (teddy bear or doll) or create a fun “meditation cave” with plenty of blankets, pillows, etc.
Meditation for toddlers
Kids between the ages of 1 and 3 are going through a great deal of emotional, intellectual, and social changes. Their bodies and brains are still developing, so they may struggle to express complex emotions. This doesn’t mean that meditation is impossible, it’s just slightly different. You can try focusing on feelings and bodily sensations.
If your toddler is feeling sad or distressed, ask them where in their body do they feel those emotions. Invite them to take a deep breath and pay attention to the sounds of that action. Doesn’t it feel great when you breathe in deeply? Ask them! Similarly, whenever they are happy, redirect their attention to the parts of the body where that happiness is coming from.
Meditation for preschoolers
Starting around the age of 4, you can add imagery into a bedtime routine. Not only are these guided meditations fun, but they also encourage kids to feel strong and resilient. One of the most popular methods for this age range involves an imaginary balloon and three very simple steps.
- Ask them to think about their favorite color. If they say “green”, for example, encourage them to imagine a green balloon.
- Then, focus on breathing. Inhale deeply and slowly, as if trying to blow up the green balloon. Exhale slowly and repeat this step once more.
- Once the balloon is full, they can pop it with a big, final breath out.
And here’s a bonus! Have your preschooler do something unique with their posture like holding their thumb and ring fingers together. In the future, while going through an anxiety episode, this tactile cue can elicit an automatic relaxation response.
The best topics for children’s meditation stories
- Imagine a butterfly flying in a field of flowers
- A story about their favorite toy
- Blowing out birthday candles
- Visualizing themselves at the beach
Meditation for teens
Big kids are better at recognizing anxiety. They are also incredibly resilient and can learn to manage everyday life stressors. That’s why this is an excellent time to adopt meditation techniques they can use now and in the future. And the best thing is that teens are able to engage all their senses, making it possible for them to try several, more “advanced” approaches. So what are some of the most useful methods out there?
Music has many amazing benefits for overall health. Listening to our favorite playlist, for instance, boosts our mood and energy. It can also calm our physiology, which alleviates stress. Now, combine music with meditation, another efficient stress reliever. You’ll get an excellent way to relax and clear your mind whenever you need it most. Usually, meditation music includes Tibetan singing bowls and instruments. Together, they produce frequencies that create a calming effect and are believed to have healing properties on the body.
Environmental science proves that nature has a positive effect on our well-being. Ocean waves, rainfall, thunders, and blowing winds are examples of sounds that can instantly relax us. But why are they so calming? It has to do with our brains. Whenever we hear a disturbing sound (an alarm clock or loud siren), our brains are immediately hyper-alert, ready for any possible threat. On the other hand, sounds that are constant, such as those typical of natural settings, are considered “non-threats” by our brains. Kids who listen to natural sounds have a better time dealing with stress and anxiety.
Picture a beautiful natural landscape. It can be the countryside or a pristine beach. Engage your senses. How does this place look, smell, feel, or even taste? Visualization is another powerful technique that can help anxious teens achieve a relaxed state of mind. It works by bringing awareness to serene visuals and positive outcomes to future situations. What’s great about visualization is that you can combine it with other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and body scan.
Making meditation fun, easy and effective
In this day and age, people are turning to mindfulness and meditation apps to manage negativity, stress, anxiety, and regulate their emotions. For teens who are constantly looking at their screens, meditation apps are practical resources. Available online and as an app, Synctuition features over a hundred sound journeys. Discover the most immersive 3D nature sounds that will help you visualize and reach a deep meditative state in a matter of minutes.