Mind Training for Tots
Can you train your child's mind?
Posted November 28, 2008
"The essential nature of the mind is purity" stated His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I believe this to be true. It appears to me that a child's mind is the quintessential example of purity awaiting more human involvement, interactions and connections for its amazing expansion.
A child's brain is the only organ not yet fully developed upon birth. It grows as a result of the complex interplay between internal and external dynamics. Recent brain research while underscores the incredible importance of 0-3 years old it doesn't stop there. Children are always in the state of expansion, brain reshaping and growth as a result of a multitude of factors (i.e. nutrition, enrichment activities, positive relationships, language stimulation, environmental factors and sensory aspects).
So can a child's mind be trained? The brain of a child is considered an "activity-dependent" organ being shaped and molded as a result of external interactions per Zero to Three. This seems to say YES. A child's brain is incredibly sensitive to external stimuli as it wires itself in response to his or her environment. This plasticity means children are like sponges soaking up their environmental cues and experiences --- for better or worse.
Let's make it better
Agreeing that it is possible to train a child's mind the question remains how and why? Why seems clear to me. A child's mind trained can exert greater focus, attention and positive emotions. It can be used as a force for good in the world. Many cultures such as Tibetan Buddhism naturally teach children mantras in preschool and encourage moments of meditation daily. I would suggest their mostly peace loving community has produced significant and positive results around the world. It certainly changed my life and provided me an opportunity to become part of a Tibetan resettlement community in 2007 as a pre-school creative development leader.
Ultimately, a child's mind that is trained to be appreciative, feel compassion, understand the connectedness of all life as well cultivate positive emotions can be used as a powerful influence for good. Children's minds that are swayed by negative emotion constantly are disruptive, short-tempered and very reactive. Their minds become an enemy versus ally.
The crucial question: How?
Every child is different especially in regard to abilities and unique temperament. Parents need to trust their intuitive understanding of their child's skills, interests and inclinations in choosing a deliberate method of mind training. Some successful ones include:
Meditation which focuses upon relaxing the physical body, deep breathing, focusing the mind (i.e. perhaps a candle), peaceful imagining (i.e. rainbows, waterfalls, walks on beach) and then returning to be more fully awake in the body is helpful. Today, many books exist that give you step-by-step meditations to say slowly to your child to foster a peaceful state of mind.
Another practice is metta or lovingkindness. Gregory Kramer who raised 3 sons used this practice nearly every evening. It is the practice of teaching each child to send with their thoughts and feelings of lovingkindness to others (i.e. teachers, parents, relatives, friends, animals, plants, bullies at school and people in other countries and those we don't know). The basic intention is to wish that all beings are free from suffering and may they be happy. As soon as his children understood speech, Mr. Kramer let them direct this practice and if they weren't interested that night - he gave them a free pass. The idea is to encourage it and not mandate it.
Without question the best practice to foster a child's calm mind is to be a peaceful, kind and fully conscious example for them. It sounds simple but is not easy. Good news is that mind training for adults is effective and our brains are always reshaping themselves as well. Perhaps not at the speed and rapid advancement of children but the seed of change exists. We are always in the process of becoming.
Give mind training a chance
Earlier this year I taught children aged 3 to 8 years old beginning meditation with positive results. Having been requested to build a children's program by Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Jampa, Spiritual Director of Do Ngak Kunphen Ling, I incorporated beginning meditation into each class. Results were not immediate. It took creativity and flexibility on my part to meet the children wherever they were on that particular day however with some concerted effort, enthusiasm, patience and consistency it really began working. In the words of my student Gabe, age 8, "meditation helps calm my mind, make me feel peace and happy to see others" each day.
By Maureen Healy
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