As the world continues to get busier and more cluttered with distractions, children aren’t immune from this trend. They’re constantly exposed to technology and other factors that keep their minds racing at night and disrupt their sleep.
We spoke with Carisa Banuelos, a child meditation expert who helps both kids and adults to learn and practice mindfulness. She explained how today’s children can counteract life’s daily distractions by learning to be more mindful.
“When our awareness is fragmented, it causes a lot of chaos in our minds. We live in a society of attention and awareness fragmentation. We’re doing a thousand different things at once. When we can bring our awareness to a single point of focus, it is incredibly relaxing for the mind and healthy for the brain,” Banuelos said.
What’s a good age to begin child meditation?
According to Banuelos, age 5 is a solid time to begin teaching meditation to children, although there are some aspects of meditation and mindfulness that younger children can practice.
What are some techniques you use for younger children?
“The younger children’s sessions look much more like play. Much more like mindful play than anything,” Banuelos said. “But first I teach them breathwork — how to breathe properly. My kiddos are actually able to pick up breathwork much more quickly than adults. They have such open minds that are ready to learn, change and grow.”
In addition to practicing breathwork and gratitude, Banuelos also has younger children practice visualization. For example, she’ll have them imagine that a butterfly is landing on different parts of their bodies, which causes each body part to relax.
“I try to get them to do at least five minutes of quiet and relaxation time. They always come out of that time feeling happy and relaxed. It’s like a reset for their little minds,” Banuelos said.
What are you seeing with older children and sleep?
Banuelos said she sees many older children, especially teens, come in with severe sleep issues. Parents explain that their child can’t sleep even though they’ve tried tactics such as taking phones away. According to Banuelos, these kids often share a common issue.
“The number one thing I see is that they have trouble shutting their racing minds down,” Banuelos said. “I would say 90% of sleep issues they’re reporting are because they’re up at night ruminating about their days.”
Banuelos said she’s found that teaching breathwork and relaxation techniques can have a profound impact on these busy-minded kids.
“The major benefit is that it decreases rumination. Learning how to breathe properly causes the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in,” she said. “You’re so focused on how you’re breathing, it’s very relaxing and quieting for the mind and body.”
What are your thoughts on parents meditating with kids?
“There’s an incredible power in parents meditating with their children,” Banuelos said.
When she has kids or teenagers come to see her, she requires that parents come for at least one child meditation session. She believes that as she’s teaching kids skills such as how to breathe properly and how to feel emotions, it can almost override the lessons if parents don’t mirror the same positive behaviors because “the parent is the model.”
“If the parent does it with them, it becomes a way of life. It becomes an integrative process,” she said.
Where do you see mindfulness and meditation headed?
In general, Banuelos said meditation is quickly becoming a way of life for adults, something as common as going to the gym. People who have traditionally dismissed meditation as “woo woo” are now accepting that it can have dramatic effects on the brain.
More children are also being exposed to meditation and mindfulness in schools, and even from their parents. This early start will pay dividends for children, she said.
“With kids, you have to set them up for success with mindfulness and meditation. You start to teach them that the first thing they do when they’re stressed or anxious is to breathe. From there, it’s quite limitless for kids.”
Carisa Banuelos is Director of Mindfulness at The Mind Gym - a Neurofeedback Company. She has over 20,000 combined hours of research and training in Meditation, Neurofeedback, Yoga, Buddhist Psychology, Yoga Psychology, and Reiki. She works one-on-one with clients in her private healing practice teaching meditation and more with clients of all ages. Visit sacredandsimple.com to learn more.