When dealing with the stresses of raising a child with special needs, the last thing you need is some ridiculous advice like, “Start a meditation practice with them!”
I hear you. It seems like one more thing to add to your already overloaded schedule. Which is why I hope you won’t want to run away when we suggest, with all due sincerity, that you may want to consider a basic meditation practice with your child. It works – it really does. Taking even 5 minutes a day out of your typical daily activities can have a profound effect on your child (and you!).
What People Think Meditation Is
Many people think meditation involves visiting an ashram, hiring a guru, and spending hours chanting ‘Ohm’ while sitting barefoot. This makes for an entertaining visual, but it’s far from what meditation actually is (or what I’d expect a busy parent to do)!
The True Definition and Benefits of Meditation
Meditation, defined simply, means “extended thought.” It’s a practice of focusing your mind on the present moment in order to gain a more clear and calm mental and emotional state. For some people, this means spending an hour on a cushion in complete and utter silence. For the parent of a child with special needs, it could mean just 5 minutes of quiet time, or listening to a guided meditation on a blanket or yoga mat in the living room. The idea is to carve out some time without distractions to focus on something relaxing. You can do this with or without your child, although both of you can definitely benefit. Research has shown that even brief amounts of time spent on meditation can reduce stress, lift mood, relieve anxiety, reduce hyperactivity, improve attention and focus, and strengthen relationships. With so much potentially to gain, there is really nothing to lose!
Will your child wiggle the first few rounds? Will the dog bark just when the CD gets started? Will your neighbor choose that exact moment to knock on your door to remind you of the association bake sale happening two weeks from Saturday? Of course! That’s why you need to set realistic expectations for your session. Here how:
Realistic Expectations for Parent/Child Mediation
1. Talk to Your Child In Advance: Tell your child, in advance, that meditation is something you are going to do as part of your weekly routine. Just like he or she eats good food and takes vitamins for a strong body, meditation is something that they need to do for a strong mind, body and soul.
2. Find a Quiet Spot: It can seem impossible to find a quiet spot in the house, but remember – you’re not aiming for perfection. Perhaps your bedroom, with the door shut, is the best place to avoid distraction. Maybe it’s his or her bedroom? Maybe it’s in the car under a shady tree where that dog or pesky neighbor can’t find you. The point is to find someplace where you’re least likely to be disturbed and go for it.
3. Find a Guided Meditation: Google “mindfulness audio” and you’ll have more than your share of options to choose from. We suggest you keep it simple and find one specifically geared for the age/developmental level of your child. Those that tell stories or describe nature in vivid detail are often big hits with kids, as it sets their imaginations soaring down a fun, narrative story. Teens tend to prefer more realistic visualization exercises with relaxing music. Stress-Free Kids is a great resource for many different activities and audios. I also highly recommend the meditation app Calm.
4. Use Essential Oil: When diffused, essential oil can add a lovely fragrance to the room. The comforting scent not only will become a familiar reminder for your child that, “Now it’s time to quiet down,” certain essential oils actually can calm your child down. Lavender, bergamot, orange, and vetiver are oils known for their soothing effect on the nervous system.
5. Keep Your Expectations Low: Expect some bumps on your way to nirvana. The goal isn’t to meditate perfectly. There’s no such thing! The goal is to take time out of your day and just “be” with your child in a calming and positive way. While silence and total relaxation would be awesome, not losing your cool over unrealistic expectations is pretty darn awesome, too.
6. Keep Your Perspective On Track: Piggybacking on tip #5, remember that meditation is about stressing less. Don’t put more stress on yourself and your child by having an end goal in mind. Use this time as an opportunity to bond with your child and see what comes from the experience. Many parents find that just 5-15 minutes a day increases their level of patience, understanding and overall gratitude for their child (yes, even their difficult children!).
Start with just 5 minutes a day of quiet sitting, with or without a guided meditation audio or relaxing music. Work up to 15 minutes several times a week, in whatever way works best for you and your child, and see what benefits you notice.
Here’s a helpful post from the blog on Do’s and Don’ts for Staying Calm.
Have you used any type of meditation activities personally or with your child? Please share your experiences in the comments!