Meditation – Insight Meditation For Children & Youth

Heather is the Spirit Rock Meditation Center Family Program Teacher and Manager.

By Heather Sundberg, Meditation Teacher, © Copyright 2008.

Insight Meditation Has Helped Kids With

  • ADHD and other attention challenges
  • Experiencing chronic illness
  • Concentration problems
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Emotional reactivity
  • Emotional pain
  • Family dynamics
  • Loneliness
  • Physical pain
  • Self-esteem issues
  • School performance
  • Social relations stress

Insight Meditation Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: Meditation is a spiritual practice. It is helpful because it allows children & youth to access what is true in their own experience. From that experience they can develop confidence in themselves and have a wider range of choice for themselves.

Body: Meditation cultivates relaxation and a deep sense of rest. The body can then rejuvenate. Statements such as, “this feels like the first time I’ve rested all week,” are often heard.

Mind: Fundamentally, meditation is a mind training. It teaches kids and youth that they are not enslaved to their thoughts and that they have choices.

Emotions: Meditation creates a container for kids and youth to safely feel their emotions in their bodies. Meditation helps them to regulate their emotions. Mindfulness Meditation teaches children that they have a choice about how to respond to their emotions.

Social: Even though a person practices meditation individually, what is learned is that everything is connected. A deeper, more authentic social connection develops when meditation is practiced in a family or group. Meditation tends to foster a sense of trust in one’s own experience and that translates into trust socially.

Brief Description Of Insight Meditation

  • Mindfulness Meditation is a training, wherein the child or youth develops moment to moment, non-judgmental, curious attention to the direct experience of mind and body.

Insight Meditation Is Appropriate For Ages

  • Some people would disagree with me, but I have found that children can begin to meditate in groups at age four and up.
  • Under age four, meditating with an adult can work.

Children & Youth’s Reactions To Insight Meditation

  • Most children & youth like meditation, if they are not being forced to do it.
  • Feeling calmer, more peaceful and relaxed are common responses.
  • Sometimes children & youth will feel a sense of wellbeing, while other times meditation will reveal emotions that can be difficult for them. This is why debriefing meditations are important. After children have accepted the difficult feelings they most often feel better.
  • Often youth will get a much clearer sense of who they are (a sense of authenticity).

Extra Care Is Needed

  • Meditation sessions have to be modified to accommodate certain psychological issues.
  • Extra care has to be taken by the teacher when a child is experiencing intense emotions.
  • Insight Meditation can be very helpful; however, care always has to be taken. Care may mean altering the meditation instruction slightly to accommodate the child or youth. For example: when a child is experiencing intense grief over a death, or a divorce.
  • Lessons have to be modified when a child/teen is in early recovery from addiction or eating disorders. Meditation sessions should be shorter.

Contraindications: When Insight Meditation Should Be Avoided

  • Sitting meditation should be avoided during acute trauma. It is not helpful to meditate because the trauma is too intense and painful. Mindful meditation during such times could be eating meditation and/or movement meditation.


  • Meditation has been practiced in one way or another in every major world religion.
  • Meditation is practiced in some way in most indigenous traditions.

Basic Concepts And Components Of Insight Meditation

  • Mindfulness involves paying attention, being non-judgmental, curious, being kind with one’s self, as well as sensations, thoughts, emotions and with reactions to other people.
  • Mindfulness of sound
  • Mindfulness of body
  • Mindfulness of breath
  • Mindfulness of emotions
  • Mindfulness of thoughts
  • Insight Meditation can be done sitting cross-legged, sitting in a chair, standing, walking, or lying down.
  • Insight Meditation can also be done with eyes closed or eyes opened.

Fees/Costs In 2007

  • In many traditions, payment is done by donation.
  • At Spirit Rock, group classes cost about $10 a class. However, no one is turned away.
  • Costs vary from teacher to teacher, and place to place.

Average Time Per Session

  • At Spirit Rock with beginning students: 5 minutes for Elementary School age children; 10 minutes for Middle School age youth; 15 minutes for High School aged youth.
  • As students gain more experience, the length of time can be increased up to 30 minutes for children in High School.
  • A good rule of thumb is one minute for each year of life. For example: an eight year old would meditate for eight minutes.

Recommended Length Of Time Between Sessions

  • Sessions are practiced in many schools three times a week.
  • Classes for children and for teens are held weekly at Spirit Rock.
  • Children & youth are encouraged to meditate once each day.

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • Improvements totally depend upon the child or youth, family and meditation teacher.
  • It is rare that a child or youth comes out of a retreat unchanged. (A retreat is an intensive residential training experience in meditation, ranging from three days to many months.)
  • For many students, families will notice change after the child or youth has attended a six week class.

Suggestions To Make Insight Mediation More Effective

  • Create a quiet safe space.
  • Have a qualified teacher.
  • Avoid forcing children & youth to meditate.

Other Methods That Are Similar To Insight Meditation

  • Mindfulness Practice can be integrated into any activity.
  • Movement meditations including Aikido and Yoga are similar.
  • Expressive Arts and Contact Improvisation can be similar.
  • Dancing/moving arts is similar.
  • Other martial arts (in certain ways) are similar.
  • Yoga is similar.

Nature And Length Of Training To Be An Insight Meditation Teacher

  • It varies.
  • At Spirit Rock, training takes at least 4 years.
  • Other centers have different qualifications and time requirements.

Special Training Needed To Work With Children & Youth

  • Apprenticing with an experienced teacher working with children & youth for at least a year
  • Having an ongoing personal practice, which includes retreats (A retreat is an intensive residential training experience in meditation, ranging from three days to many months.)
  • Having other experience working with children & youth, such as teaching, childcare, and/or summer programs

Certification/Licenses Held By Practitioners/Teachers

  • Check out who trained the practitioner and whether or not that person is a recognized meditation teacher.

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Practitioners/Teachers

  • Contact the centers and people listed below. It is a small community.

Number Of Certified Teachers In U.S., Canada, And Mexico

  • There are hundreds.

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Teachers/Practitioners

  • For private lessons or for group lessons: check out their prior experience as a meditator and as a teacher.
  • Check to make sure the person has been meditating for at least 5 years and has attended several retreats (a retreat is an intensive residential training experience in meditation, ranging from three days to months).

Leading Centers, Practitioners

  • Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Family Program; PO Box 169; Woodacre, CA 94973; 415-488-0164; Fax: 415-488-1025; Website: www.meditation-center.com; Email:SRMC@spiritrock.org
  • Spirit Rock Meditation Center Teen Program. (See above for contact information.)
  • Insight Meditation Society (the first Vipassana Center), The Retreat Center; 1230 Pleasant Street; Barre, MA 01005; 978-355-4378; Website: www.dharma.org/ims; Email: rc@dharma.org
  • San Francisco Zen Center/Green Gulch Zen Center; 300 Page Street; San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-863-3136; Website: www.sfzc.org; Email: ccoffice@sfzc.org
  • Tsultrum Allioni of Tara Mandala; P.O. Box 3040; Pagosa Springs, CO 81147; 970-731-3711; Website: www.taramandala.org; Email:info@taramandala.org
  • Youth Programs of the Shambala Centre; 1084 Tower Rd.; Halifax, NS, B3H 2Y5 Canada; 902-420-1118; Fax: 902-423-2750; Website: www.halifax.shambhala.org; Email:halifax@shambhala.org
  • Susan Kaiser Greenland, founder of Inner Kids; 1739 Berkeley Street, Suite 105; Santa Monica, CA 90404; 310-440-4869; Fax: 310-828-4733; Website:www.innerkids.org
  • Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC); University of California at Los Angeles; Box 951759; Los Angeles, CA 90095-1759; 310 206 7503; Fax: 310 206 4446; Website: www.marc.ucla.edu; Email: marcinfo@ucla.edu. (This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
  • Oakland, California school board mindfulness meditation program, taught by Richard Shankman. He may be contacted through his email address:Richard@sati.org.
  • The Association for Mindfulness in Education; 650-575-5780; Website: www.mindfuleducation.org; Email:info@mindfuleducation.org
  • Impact Foundation; 264 Quari Street; Aurora, CO 80011; 303-317-5767; http://www.theimpactfoundation.org; Email:info@theimpactfoundation.org

Leading Meditation Programs

  • Meditation is practiced in some form or another by every religion.
  • Meditation classes in every tradition - Muslim, Christian, Judaism, Hindi, (and other Buddhist traditions) can be found searching the Internet, community resources, churches, temples, mosques, meditation halls and ashrams.


  • Alexander, Shoshana. In Praise of Single Parents: Mothers and Fathers Embracing the Challenge. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
  • Conover, Sarah. Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents. Spokane: Eastern Washington University Press, 2001.
  • Eastoak, Sandy. Dharma Family Treasures: Sharing Mindfulness With Children. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1994.
  • Hanson, Rick, Jan Hanson and Ricki Pollycove. Mother Nurture. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.
  • Kabat-Zinn, Jon and Myla. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting. New York: Hyperion, 1998.
  • Kornfield, Jack. A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
  • Nhat Hanh, Thich. A Pebble For Your Pocket. Plum Blossom Books, 2002.
  • Miller, Karen Maezen. Mama Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood. Boston: Trumpeter Books, 2006.

For Teens:

  • Gordhamer, Soren. Just Say Om!: Your Life’s Journey. Cincinnati: Adams Media Corp, 2001.
  • Loundon, Sumi. Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2001.
  • MacLean, Kerry Lee. Peaceful Piggy Meditation. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Co., 2004.

For Children:

  • Hendricks, Gay and Russel Wills. The Centering Book: Awareness Activities for Children and Adults to Relax the Body and Mind. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Trade, 1992.

Helpful Tips For Parents

  • Have a quiet place to meditate – one that is free of distractions.
  • Meditate together as a family.
  • A lot of families have a simple mindfulness bell. If the bell is rung, everyone stops and takes three breaths –this is especially useful during times of conflict, over-busy times, or during moments of transition (stopping one activity and moving to another activity). Families don’t have to know how to meditate to do this. They just have to take in and let out three breaths.

Biography of Heather Sundberg, Author

  • Experience: Heather has worked with youth since 1991 and has taught meditation to youth since 1999. She is in Spirit Rock Teacher Training under the guidance of Jack Kornfield.
  • Degrees: She holds a BA; California Teaching Credential (expired).
  • She has approximately 250 children students and 150 Teens – personally and as Program Director.

To Contact Heather Sundberg, Who Contributed This Chapter

Heather Sundberg; c/o Spirit Rock Meditation Center; P.O. Box 169; Woodacre, CA 94973; 415-488-0164 ext. 227; Fax: 415-488-1025; Website: www.SpiritRock.org; Email: SRMC@spiritrock.org

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Meditation: I meditate every day. My children meditate on an as-needed basis. For children experiencing major depression and other serious mental illness, I recommend getting clearance from a mental health professional before beginning any meditation practice.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About Meditation: I meditate and have done so for years. When I was a school principal I helped oversee a research project investigating the effects of meditation on high school children & youth.

The chief of the board of education research department was a meditator and felt that it was important to know if meditation helped children & youth. The study was very carefully designed. The results were quite amazing. Academic achievement went up. Truancy and violence went down. Self-concept went up. Teacher morale improved. Unfortunately, the program was curtailed after over 3000 students had learned to meditate. This was done by some misguided elected trustees who were afraid of meditation, confusing it with something else. This group of caring trustees also wanted to ban kindergarten children from sitting in a circle while they talked.

Meditation can take children & youth some time to settle into, however it works. I advise parents to learn it too. Meditating as a family as often as possible can lead to amazing results.

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