Helping Kids to Navigate Stress with Nature-based Meditation
By Megan Lammam
I’m listening to Brandi Carlile’s angelic voice coming through my computer as I organize some files. “Stay gentle, keep the eyes of a child, and wear your heart on your sleeve.” My two kids are busy watching YouTube and an episode of “Stranger Things”. Although it sounds like a nice summer evening, the truth is, it’s noisy and distracting. We’re all in the same room, on individual screens, fighting for air space. I put my headphones on and do my best to stay gentle and find calm.
This scenario is all too familiar for families living in the digital age. Parents and children are bombarded with a continuous flow of information, often from multiple different sources simultaneously, making it difficult to focus on any one thing. Technology makes it easy for us to splinter our attention into several tiny fragments, but there is a hefty price for cognitive overload. The cost is burnout and anxiety. So, how do you help your children learn to find calm amid the clutter and the noise? One simple and useful answer is nature-based meditation.
The practice of nature-based meditation focuses on slow breathing, quieting the mind, accessing a peaceful state of presence, calming the nervous system, and activating the senses in nature. These individual techniques are helpful for managing stress; however, when combined they are a highly effective method to finding calm.
For many parents, meditation is a new addition to their self-care regimen. Although they believe in the benefits, parents don’t often know how to lead a meditation for kids or where to begin. A good place to start is by removing any expectations of yourself to get it right. Nature-based meditation is fun and calming! These tips will help you ease into the practice and learn some easy-to-integrate techniques that will benefit the whole family.
EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS
Kids often like to play in an environment that feels open and allows them to wander. With parent supervision, the outdoors can be a great place for safe and mindful play. Join them in exploring nature.
BE A CALM DETECTIVE
Ask your child what helps them to feel calm. Is it snuggling with a stuffed animal or listening to music? Is it playing a musical instrument or drawing? Getting to know your child’s preferred method of quiet time helps you to set them up for success because many, if not all, self-soothing tools can be integrated with outdoor play. Invite your child to bring their calming tools outside. This sets the tone for them to have an enjoyable meditation experience. Whether it’s a stuffy, an instrument, a book, or art supplies, all are welcome in the practice of finding calm!
Children enjoy the mystery and wonder of the outdoors. Encourage your child to find a tree or a nature being to befriend during the meditation. As they settle in, encourage them to explore their senses by touching the ground, smelling the air, listening to the birds, and noticing any insects or plants. This will provide an opportunity for them to joyfully engage in the sensory process of being present.
BE THE GUIDE
Demonstrate how to sit in nature and take a few slow, deep breaths. Perhaps, place a hand over your heart and invite your child to find their heartbeat. This exploratory exercise can guide them to slow down their breathing and “listen in” to the rhythm of their heart. As a guide, you are opening the doors for your child to have their own experience of heartfelt connection. Inquire about what they are noticing.
PLAY I AM
A simple technique that you can do with your child (indoors or outdoors) is to breathe slowly and repeat the words “I am”. You can speak the words out loud or silently to yourself. Try matching the words “I am” with the flow of your in and out breaths. This is called self-inquiry meditation. It is practiced in many different traditions. It helps one to slow down the thoughts and focus on presence and self-awareness. For kids, this can be a gentle way to shift their energy from external stimulations to internal feelings of peace and calmness.
DON’T PUSH PERFECTION
Be patient with the learning process. Like any new skill, learning to meditate and breathe mindfully takes time. Give your child permission to practice the techniques at their own pace. Let your child know there is no right or wrong way to do it. Practice is progress!
Give your child permission to listen to a meditation app on their digital device. This provides an opportunity for you to build trust and boundaries with your child in using technology to assist them with learning the practice.
You’ll find several nature-based meditations on Insight Timer. Here are two tracks from my collection for you to enjoy:
1. Heartbeat: Your Child’s Inner Compass
2. Explore your senses: a guided mindfulness walk
Megan Lammam is a certified ANFT Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, Insight Timer meditation teacher, and author of the children’s book Your Heart Compass.