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Mom and daughter meditating

Just Breathe: Help Your Children Take a Mental Break

By: Dr. Lea Thomas, Newport News Pediatrics

In this hyper-connected world of cell phones, Instagram, and dawn-to-dusk schedules, children rarely have time to “unplug.”

So it’s important that parents encourage them to take time each day to take a deep breath, relax, and focus. Sorry, kids, this means putting away your electronic devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to help children use “mind-body therapies,” such as meditation, prayer, or “mindfulness” exercises to take a break from stress and screen time.

Brains can get tired from constant stimulation, so teaching your child to stop, focus, and just breathe is an act that can help them for life. Some common types of meditation include concentration, such as meditating on a prayer or mantra; movement-based meditation, like yoga or tai chi; cultivating positive emotions such, as gratitude and compassion; and emptying your mind by listening for an inner voice, or through a practice called “centering prayer.”

Meditation involves sitting quietly, resting or closing your eyes, and bringing your attention to your breath. When your attention drifts away, bring your attention back to your breath without judgment. Sitting still is hard for some kids, so a movement-based meditation, such as yoga, may help them with this practice.

Here are some tips from the AAP to help:

- The length of time and frequency of meditating can vary for different people and different practices. But, pediatricians typically recommend the following time frames:

  • Preschool children: A few minutes a day.
  • Grade-school children: 3-10 minutes twice a day.
  • Teens and adults: 5-45 minutes a day or more based on preference.

- Try incorporating deep breathing into your children's daily bedtime routine – it can help them wind down for the night and make meditation easier when other situations arise.

- Remind young children and teens to take a few deep breaths before answering a difficult question at school, taking a test, or before an athletic performance.

- As young children learn to manage strong emotions, deep breathing can be part of the process – especially before and after time outs.

- While meditation can be done on your own, it can also be done with the help of a trained professional. Some counselors and individuals with training in meditation can help others learn and practice meditation.

There are many ways to learn different practices of meditation. There are books, audio recordings, videos, online training, websites, and even cell phone apps to help children meditate. (OK, pick up your cell phone, but only to learn how to put it away!) Choose and practice the one that works the best for you and your child, and enjoy a calmer body, mind, and spirit.

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