Meditating with a 4-year-old

I’ve been trying to teach Anya to meditate. She’s an extremely emotional child, and I thought a regular meditation practice would help her deal with life’s slings and arrows better. I also thought it’d help transition her from rowdy evening play to bedtime. (I know the whole bath/teeth/story ritual is supposed to do that, but that doesn’t even work for me.)

Plus, I really need to meditate. But the only way I can reliably fit it in to my day is if I tell myself I’m doing it for her.

I am not trying for long meditation sessions. Two minutes is fine. I also did not expect compliance at first, because I’ve meditated around this child in the past. She likes to try to make me laugh while I’m meditating. So I usually end up “alive and present” with a preschooler sitting on my head. No, I was mostly hoping that, in time, her curiosity would win out over her orneriness, and she’d start meditating with me. (Hey, it worked for yoga.)

So. We started out kind of like this:

Settle into bed. Turn off lamp. Start Calm app. She immediately begins nitpicking the background image and white noise. The one she herself selected yesterday.

“What’s that picture? Why you got that picture on there? What’s that noise? I hate that noise! I want to pick a different noise.”

Hand over my phone.

“What’s that picture? That’s boring. Boring, boring, boring. I like this picture. Ew, I hate that noise. This noise. I like this noise. Here you go, Mama.”

Take phone back. Queue up 2-minute body scan guided meditation. Allow her to push the Start button.

“Welcome to this 2-minute pause in your day…”

“Why you close your eyes? What she saying? Why you turn the light off?”

“Shh, baby. Listen and do what she says.”

“I miss Mimi. You want to play with me? You can play with my Barbie. You be the mommy Barbie.”

“It’s not playtime, sweetheart. Please be quiet.”

“I know! Let’s watch cooking show!”

“In a minute, honey. Let’s finish meditating first.”

“You nuggle me?”

Snuggle up with her.

“When we go to the zoo? You no work tomorrow. We party in the elevator!”*

“I have to work tomorrow, sweetheart. We will go to the zoo soon. For now, hush, please.” Snuggle in silence for a moment.

“I love you, Mama.”

“I love you too, sweetheart.” Again, silence. Her breathing slows.

“In your own time, open your eyes.”

She’s fast asleep.

So, you know, not a total loss, but also not teaching her to calm herself. Which was really the point of this whole exercise.

But then, something wonderful happened. Calm added a (premium) kids’ section. I was feeling optimistic, so rather than just buying a month of access I ponied up the $40 for a year’s subscription. And you know what? It was worth every penny. Anya liked the first meditation so much, she asked to do a second one. Then at bedtime, I started the bedtime story, and it put her to sleep in under 3 minutes! It almost put me to sleep, too; if Kai hadn’t been so squirmy – fighting sleep himself – it would have.

Now she asks me to meditate. And requests that story every night. We haven’t missed a day of meditation all week. Just when I thought I couldn’t love the app more. And no, they don’t pay me to say that.

Now I just need to identify the ideal time of day for us to meditate. While I appreciate the bedtime story (as a child, I used to listen to a relaxation tape as I went to sleep, so I know how helpful such things are to kids), I want her to learn to do this when she’s awake and upset, to calm down. We need a routine.


*I have no idea where “party in the elevator” came from. Certainly not from me; I have an elevator phobia.



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