Every parent and educator wishes for the happiness and well-being of their children. A heartwarming scientifically supported technique known as “loving kindness meditation” can help you increase both.
When my son was two, I started teaching him kindness by asking him to send kind wishes to his close family. Now that my son is in school, I want to help him go deeper, learn long-form meditation, and experience the wonderful feelings that loving kindness practice is intended to elicit in order to reap the full benefits.
I’m happy and proud to say that I’ve finally discovered a beautiful and sweet way to spend 10 minutes with my son practicing loving kindness meditation. AND he wants me to guide him through it every day!!
After trying this meditation for the first time with her child, Julie, a mother of a ten-year-old, told me:
“I tried this with my daughter last night. We didn’t talk about many people except for me but we talked a lot about animals that she loves. She really loved it and fell asleep as we were doing it calm and happy. It was so lovely because she has been very stressed lately and often at bedtime too.”
– Julie, mother of a 10-year-old daughter
I’ll explain how we do it in such a way that an eight-year-old doesn’t lose interest, but first, let me explain why experiencing positive emotions is so important for you, and why I felt compelled to find a way to make long-form practice accessible to my eight-year-old son.
Why positive emotions matter
Barbara Fredrickson, the Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (PEP Lab) at UNC-Chapel Hill, is a leading expert in the field of positive emotions.
She has studied the effects of positive emotions for over 20 years and discovered that pleasant emotional states, as fleeting as they are, contribute to resilience, wellbeing, and health.
Positive emotions have been linked to a slew of advantages. According to Barbara Fredrickson, positive feelings broaden our awareness and allow us to see more options and possibilities, making learning and problem solving easier.
Positive emotions, according to her research, help to develop intellectual, social, physical, and psychological resources. This is precisely what we desire for our children 😍
A scientist discovers loving kindness
Barbara Fredrickson needed to find a reliable way for her test subjects to self-generate positive emotion when she first wanted to study the effects of positive emotions.
She struggled to come up with something simple that could be done repeatedly without losing its appeal. The standard methods in psychology research, such as music, happy film clips, cartoons, and gifts, simply would not suffice because the method needed to be repeated for weeks without falling flat.
Fortunately, Barbara was introduced to “metta”, an ancient mind-training practice refined over millennia. Metta translates as “great friendliness to oneself and others.” We call it “loving kindness” or simply “kindness practice.”
Barbara had discovered a dependable secular method for self-generating positive emotions, and she decided put it to good use in a scientific setting. Go Barb!
The science of loving kindness
The results were quite astounding. Barbara discusses the findings in her book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection:
“The results were abundantly clear. When people who were completely new to meditation learned to expand their capacity for love and kindness, they transformed themselves from the inside out. They experience more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy, more amusement—more every positive emotion measured. Their lives spiraled upwards… and they became healthier.”
– Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.
Again, this is precisely what I want for my child. An upward spiral of more love, more engagement, joy, serenity….
Interestingly for us parents, studies have shown that practicing loving kindness “can help support parents’ well-being, their ability to be less reactive when responding to children’s suffering, and their ability to cultivate compassionate responses to their children” (Kirby, Baldwin 2018).
So practicing with your children is a win-win situation!
This is something I’ve discovered to be true. I’m less reactive, and it’s easier for me to empathize with my child’s difficulties, even when I’m triggered myself.
More information about the rather amazing health benefits of loving kindness practice can be found here in an article written by Emma Seppala, PhD, scientific director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
Knowing all this, and having experienced similar benefits myself, I knew I had to translate the practice into something a young boy would enjoy doing, and I did!
My son actually asks me to help him with the practice on a daily basis. And it feels AMAZING to be able to teach my son how to self-generate all of these wonderful positive emotions that will improve his overall well-being.
How can we help a child to practice long-form loving kindness meditation?
And ask for more?
This is how…
First and foremost, we want to make it as simple and enjoyable as possible. When you enjoy a practice, it becomes a habit that you want to continue.
As a result, I decided to attempt meditation while putting my son to bed, when he was already peaceful. Knowing that his brainwaves would progress from active beta to calm alpha to emotive and dreamy theta helping him relax into the meditation.
Instead of explaining all the benefits or talking about the practice, I simply suggested that we try a different kind of story this night—one in which he could participate through his imagination. Dad would just talk him through it like reading a story.
As a result, meditation takes on a familiar form, such as a bedtime story. A story that just happens to induce wonderful beneficial mental states.
My son usually falls asleep during the practice. It’s wonderful to see him falling asleep while feeling all of those wonderful loving kind emotions the meditation helps to elicit. 💖
I believe one of the key reasons I got him “hooked” is that we include his friends and a special girl he loves in the mental imagery—people for whom he has natural feelings of warmth and positive emotions. Not to mention meeting his fictitious cats and kittens in the loving kindness meditation.
You see, his greatest wish is to have a cat, but we are unable to have pets due to asthma and allergies. Now he can have cats this way and go to sleep snuggling with kittens. Ta-dah! 😀
Okay, here’s our script to inspire you:
Script: Long-form loving kindness meditation for kids
Gently close your eyes. For a moment, feel how it feels to breathe.
See if you notice how your belly rises and falls as you breathe in and out.
Following your breathing is wonderfully soothing.
Maybe you can feel my belly move as I hold and hug you.
Now see if you can feel your heart beating. You may be able to feel it in your chest or somewhere else in your body.
Your heart takes care of you all the time, even when you sleep. We can be thankful that we have a heart that takes care of us.
You can smile gently to your heart if you wish.
Now, imagine that your special girlfriend is in front of you.
(I’m not allowed to share her name here 😉)
When she sees you she smiles at you. She has such a beautiful smile and when you look into her eyes you smile too because a genuine smile is contagious.
She is so happy to see you.
She sends you kind loving wishes. She smiles and says to you:
Anton, I wish you to be happy and joyful.
Anton, I wish you to be healthy and strong.
Anton, I wish you to feel safe and loved.
It feels so good to hear these words from her.
You smile and say the same words back to her.
<Name of friend>, I wish you to be happy and joyful.
<Name of friend>, I wish you to be healthy and strong.
<Name of friend>, I wish you to feel safe and loved.
When she hears these words from you she smiles gently and lovingly at you. A light of purest love emanates from her heart and warms your chest. It feels wonderful.
Your heart is filled with love, and a ray of love shines from yours back to hers.
Your father now enters the circle behind you, a gentle smile on his face. From the bottom of his heart, your father sends you many warm wishes and loving light. It warms your back and chest and feels amazing.
Your mother Hanna joins the circle to your right. It’s as if a ray of warm light flows from her heart to yours. It feels good and warm in your chest. She smiles lovingly at you and sends love to you. It feels wonderful.
Your grandmother comes to your left, and even though she is in heaven she sees you and is so proud of you. She sends you lots of love and good wishes too.
(Yes, this is a wonderful way to “keep contact” with those who have passed because the experience can feel very real when our brains are imagining the loved one.)
More grandparents join in this circle of love. All smiling and sending loving light to you gently.
(I mention everyone by name.)
And more friends join in. It’s as if you’re in of a warm sea of pure love, surrounded by loved ones who only wish the best for you.
(Here I mention about 8 friends and loved ones by name who all come into the circle with gentle and loving smiles and kind wishes.)
😻 Finally, your cats, the big cats and little kittens join the circle of love. 😻
The kittens are overjoyed to see you and can’t help but run to you because you’re like a father to them.
You pick them up and hold them over your heart. They enjoy being in your arms so much.
The kittens feel wonderfully soft, fluffy and warm against your chest. They purr and yawn.
(The first few times we did this, my son shed happy tears as he imagined his beloved cats in his arms. This is how powerful our imagination is.)
You decide to take the kittens to bed to sleep. You lie down and put them on your chest where they warm you. One by one they fall asleep happily.
Your mother and father come to bed on either side of you. And you all fall asleep together seeing wonderful beautiful soothing dreams.
(End of story meditation.)
By this time my son is already deep asleep and I feel AMAZING!! Win win!!
Now when I reflect on this I think another important aspect of this practice is to make a conscious effort to feel the emotions I’m attempting to elicit in my child, as emotions can be mirrored. I think it has been key in helping my son to find those particular states of mind.
Bravo! Well done! Congrats on reading this far!! 😁
Pause for a moment to consider how you might personalize your own script for your children. You could, for example, start with a few close relatives and friends.
By the way, we practiced loving kindness again last night, and I awoke in the middle of the night to my son laughing in his sleep. I’m not sure if it’s linked, but it seems to be happening more frequently now.
Perhaps most importantly, my son and I both have seemed happier and more at peace since we started practicing this long-form version of loving kindness practice together.
I know for a fact that I’ve been happier because I’ve been tracking my emotions with Barbara Fredrickson’s scientific tools on a daily basis for more than four months… but that’s another story.
Thank you for reading. I hope this article has inspired you to try loving kindness meditation in some form with your kids. 💖
Remember: there is no better way to learn kindness than to… experience it repeatedly.
If you enjoyed this mindfulness and positive psychology-based activity then consider signing up for my upcoming children’s gratitude and well-being journal series and see if you will be one of the lucky ones to test drive the first journal for free before the launch. Sign up below:
With gratitude, Chris Bergstrom
Chief Mindfulness Ninja @ Blissful Kids
#1 Best-Selling Author of:
Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book: 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens
★★★★★ Awesome “Bought this book for my 6 year old, but even my 3 and 15 yo love the activities. We usually incorporate activities on a daily basis and it’s been working so far.”
Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a blog dedicated to children’s mindfulness, and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also known as “the dad who tried 200+ mindfulness activities” and has taught meditation for more than 15 years.
Kirby, J. N., & Baldwin, S. (2018). A randomized micro-trial of a loving-kindness meditation to help parents respond to difficult child behavior vignettes. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(5), 1614–1628. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-017-0989-9