10 things children have taught me about adult mental health and meditation
By Lucy Stone
I’ve been teaching meditation and yoga full time for five years now, after leaving a high-pressured career in journalism and entertainment PR. Of course, life in the world of comedy was great fun – especially being able to work with some big household names – but after a series of life events, I knew I needed to change direction.
I re-trained, gaining qualifications in the UK, France as well as training in India, and have since taught many adults and children meditation, yoga and mindfulness at festivals events, at my yoga studio in Bath, in workplaces and most regularly teaching young people in schools.
I calculated that I have taught meditation to over fifteen thousand children over the past five years, and many people ask me how on earth I can teach four and five-year-old’s to sit still and find moments of calm. My answer surprises many – children are actually far easier to teach than adults, and there is much we can learn to their approach.
So here are the 10 lessons I’ve learnt from teaching children that we can take and use to help our own mental health and approach to meditation.
They don’t mind making time for themselves
Children are naturally inwardly focussed, which means they put themselves first. Us adults might see this as “selfish”, but it is just that their brain hasn’t matured yet. This means children are naturally more open to making time for themselves and would not see meditation as an indulgent practice or use of time, which is one of the most common obstacles I hear adults using.
They find it easy – in fact important – to focus on one thing at a time
If you’ve ever watched a small child playing with a toy car, ‘driving’ it along a groove of a wooden floorboard you’ll know they are ‘living’ that car ride, the sounds of the engine often being recreated. If you were to speak to them they would probably ‘ignore’ you. But maybe they are not ignoring you perhaps they are paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement – which so happens to be the definition of meditation, and thus children are natural meditators.
They have a positive outlook on life
Children have a default of happiness. Actually, we all do, but as adults, we forget this and take along the baggage of life, the layering of the stress of the day which means we often forget about the positive parts. Children are a blank canvas, with all the positivity this brings.
There’s never really any rush to do anything or be anywhere.
Walk alongside a young child and they will probably want to stop and look at every bug on every leaf or stroke every cat sitting on a wall. Children are not in a rush and would just quite like to enjoy the experience of walking as an experience in itself – not just as a journey to somewhere else. Appreciating the small things in life as we know is a powerful tool in helping us to feel better. And children are masters at it.
They have a natural state of wonder
Most of us adults who are rushing along the aforementioned child looking at a ladybird have to force ourselves to rediscover this sense of wonder at the world which we had as children. When did we forget to wonder? And when we do stop and look around us? Don’t we always feel better for it?
They are not afraid to make mistakes, they do not seek perfection
When we were at school, we were learning every single day. Children are trusting of teachers and in childhood, our brains are at peak absorption levels. Not only that, our bodies are growing and developing fastest than any other point in our life. This resilience to the red pen when our work is graded by the teacher means we are used to having feedback and making ‘mistakes’ – we understand that this is how we learn. Only as adults are we groomed for perfection and become afraid to make mistakes, we forget that it takes time to learn and that we might not get things right the first time. When learning to meditate it is a practice that we need to develop and learn. Children understand this.
They don’t have preconceptions of what meditation might be
So many adults I teach have preconceived ideas of what meditation is and will be, and very often, have decided it is not for them. Children are a blank canvas and if meditation is taught professionally and in an engaging age-appropriate way, it might just be the most important life lesson they will learn.
They have no barriers to their creativity
Every single week I feel lucky to be working with children and young people because their creativity and imagination knows no bounds. They often have the most creative of experiences and will articulate the most amazing visualisations they have had during their meditation, without any barriers to their creativity. So often as grown-ups we are restricted by who we think we should be, how we think we should act and respond and therefore our true creativity is lost.
They have a natural connection to nature
Children love to be outside in all weathers, experiencing the natural world which as we all know, is fabulous for our mental health. Fresh air, open spaces, exercises, greenery, it’s all good stuff. Any opportunity to be and, even better, play outside, grab it! Even if you don’t feel like it.
They naturally live in the NOW
Children rarely live in the past or worry too much about the future, they are living in the moment. They don’t carry grudges for long if at all, don’t go over things in their mind which have happened and do not plan ahead with great expectations. They are accidentally mindful most of the time.
So, my advice is, don’t think that the more life experience we have the better we are at living well. Like anything, we can pick up bad habits and a refresher course is needed. It’s the same with mental wellbeing and we can learn so much from our younger citizens.
Lucy’s online meditation sessions for grown-ups, which have been featured widely in the Guardian, are available to sign up to through her Meditation Rocks website. She has also launched The School of Meditation Rocks, providing weekly creative and engaging mindfulness and meditation videos each week for Primary schools all across the UK.