You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day- unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. – Zen Proverb
If you are the parent of a special needs child, the above proverb might come off as self-righteous. After all, isn’t it enough that you work at home, outside of the home, juggle medical appointments, schooling and ten zillion other things in between?
Throw in the occasional daily meltdown, and meditation might seem about as foreign as the first time you were handed your child’s diagnosis. Like that diagnosis, typical questions about starting a meditation practice can include, “How do l I handle it? How hard is it? Am I really equipped to enter into the foreign territory of…gulp…serenity?” According to Dr. Nicole Beurkens, the answer is an overwhelming, “Yes!”
Meditation is Not What You Think!
“Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting still in the dark, chanting Oooohm, and going vegan,” says Dr. Nicole Beurkens. “Mediation for the modern parent can be as simple as slowing down one’s schedule and being present.”
Beurkens, the mother of 4, should know. In addition to raising her kids, she’s the founder and director of Horizon Developmental Resource Center. She is a big believer in the concept of ‘Less is More’. “Kids with special needs already have sensitive wiring. Parents think that enrolling them in a bunch of activities will advance them, but often times it’s too much. Their brains need rest.” Translation: Slow Down.
In her book, Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood and Behavior Challenges, Beurkens addresses the value of a non-stressful schedule to keep kids balanced. While actually beginning a traditional meditation practice is a fine idea (look for an article next month on this subject!) here are a few tips Beurkens recommends to help your kids stay grounded.
Ways to Incorporate a Slower Pace into Your Special Needs Child’s Schedule
- Limit Extra Curricular Activities: It can be tempting to get your ADHD son signed up for every sports class at the local community center. And yes, activity is certainly a wonderful way for him to let off steam, but too much can leave a child feeling wired. Between practices, homework, school and the occasional doctors/counseling, it’s vital to leave room for your child to relax. “Staying quiet isn’t always a bad thing,” says Dr. Beurkens. “The discipline of remaining still helps a child develop self-regulation skills.”
- Eat Dinner at the Table: It’s not uncommon for families to eat around the television or in separate rooms. Experts show that the act of sitting around the table at the same time, however, bonds family together. It allows for stories to be told, and even for disagreements to be worked out. Meals together – even if it’s just twenty minutes – allow bubbling emotions to be released through the nurturing base of good food and safe people.
- Start Bedtime Earlier: We’re not saying to put your ten-year-old to bed at 6pm, but there’s no reason he or she can’t put on pajamas. The very act of lounge pants vs. tight skinny jeans signals to your child, “Hey, it’s time to relax! Get comfy – you’re not going anywhere!”
- Play Classical Music: Okay, so even the most cultured adults sometimes find piano concertos boring… and that’s the point! Traditional music is less jolting than electric guitar or techno music. Classical music signals kids hectic souls to take it easy. With relaxation comes healing, this healing being exceptionally restorative to special needs children’s brains who are constantly adjusting to what feels like chaos around them.
Hey Parents – Look at Your Shoes!
With so much responsibility on their shoulders, special needs parents are often as wound up as their children. To calm a spinning brain, a helpful tip is simply to look at your shoes. The simple act of staring at your footwear reminds you that your life, and your child’s, is not in the past. It is not in the future. It is in the now. It is in the present. And yes, cliché as it sounds, the present is a gift. (Oh, wait, is that peace bubbling up inside of you as you read that last part? Isn’t that what meditation is supposed to do? Good job! You’re on your way to slowing down already!)