Research indicates that compassionate children become caring and optimistic adults. Many people think that compassion is a natural trait, but it can be cultivated through formal meditation techniques, as well as selfless service and other spiritual and civic activities.
In my adult meditation groups, I teach the formal Buddhist practice called Metta Meditation, also known as the Prayer of Loving-Kindness. You don’t have to believe in any particular spiritual dogma for this to work. In the words of the Beatles, “all you need is love.”
Below is a modification of the classic meditation, designed to appeal to kids. Feel free to modify it and make it your own. You and your child can work together to create your own set of “well wishes” to send out to others!
Once your child gets comfortable with the practice, invite them to lead you through the meditation. This will help engage your child, set a great example, and hold their interest in this powerful practice.
Exercise: Compassion Meditation for Kids
- Find a relaxed, comfortable position to sit in.
- Close your eyes. Place your hand over your heart and notice the rise and fall of your breath.
- Take three full deep inhales and let the exhale fall out of your mouth with a sigh. As you do this, imagine you could relax all the muscles in your body.
- Let your hands rest in your lap.
- Picture in your mind the image of someone you love deeply. This could be a grandparent, a teacher, or even a pet. Notice how they look at you. Imagine they are smiling at you. And notice how that makes you feel. Imagine telling them how you feel: May you be safe and happy. (Pause for a few moments between each stanza, after you say this last phrase).
- Now imagine you are that someone, your grandparent, a teacher or a pet. Imagine they are looking at you, and you are smiling and happy. How did you look to them? Notice how they see your eyes sparkle and your mouth smile. Feel how they love you unconditionally! Imagine them saying to you: May you be safe and happy.
- Next, imagine that you are looking at your best friend. Notice your friend’s eyes and smile. Think of how much fun you have together. And imagine saying to your friend: May you be safe and happy.
- Now imagine a person from school that you don’t know really well. Someone you don’t have a strong opinion about. You do not like or dislike this person, but you see them sometimes in the hall or cafeteria. Imagine saying to this person: May you be safe and happy.
- This time, picture someone that you find to be a little difficult. You do not need to choose your worst enemy, but this is not your favorite person either. Imagine you could look this person in the eye and tell them: May you be safe and happy.
- Finally, imagine that you could send these well wishes out to everyone in the world. People, animals, fishes and bugs too: May you be safe and happy.
Did you notice any change in how your child related to others after this practice? If so, what did you notice?