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The Richmond Chronicle
The Richmond Chronicle August 2000

Insight with Graham Harvey

Meditation’s what you need

Childhood memories are more likely to feature balmy summers and favourite pets rather than panic attacks and nervous nail-biting. But it is a sad fact that stress amongst children seems to be on the rise and concerned parents are often desperate for solution which are never simple.

There was public shock when GPs reported that they were treating patients suffering from anxiety-related ulcers before they had reached their tenth birthdays.

According to research, more than half of Britain’s under-11s now suffer from school-related stress and one in five is suffering from a stress-related health disorder.

Chiswick teacher Christiane Kerr has an answer which she believes can relax young minds as well as encourage their natural creativity – meditation for children.

Kerr’s hour-long classes always begin with a physical activity, such as a ball game, after which the children sit in a circle and chat about what they have done that week. Kerr explains what meditation is before the group spends about ten minutes on simple breathing exercises.

“You ask them to breathe in and out through the nose – gently and calmly.” Says Kerr. “I ask them to close their eyes and take their attention to different parts of the body, starting with the feet.”

Next is an exercise to help improve the concentration of the children, which is often a variation on Kim’s game where you must memorise objects on a tray and then spot which have been removed.

Kerr said: “you might ask the children to draw a household object from memory and then observe that object before they redraw it in the following week’s class;

“I do a timetable for each class and generally it is progressive. We do something a bit more challenging building on what we have done before.”

Finally comes what is generally the most rewarding part of the class for both teacher and children, and what Kerr described as a “fantastic exercise for developing the children’s creativity”.

Sometimes using soothing background music, the children are taken through tired and tested visualisation techniques while sitting or lying on the floor.

The children will have already agreed on a destination for their mental journey after putting ideas such as “underwater adventure”, “Alladin’s cave”, “enchanted jungle”, or “outer space” into a suggestion box.

Kerr instructs the children through a physical relaxation exercise before guiding them on their magical journey. She then allows the children a minute or two to build up their own picture.

She said: “What I love is when they have done the visualisations and we chat about it afterwards the children have created these wonderful scenarios with their imaginations. They are so expressive and articulate about their experiences that I feel that I have been there myself”.

Kerr began the meditation classes with older children but her experiences with her own children were so positive that she admitted younger kids. Next terms sessions which will be held at Chiswick library will be divided into two age groups - 4 to 7 year olds and 8-11 year olds.

Mother-of three Helen Kemmitt was one of the first parents to enrol her two older children – Alex, seven and Hannah aged five.

Helen was particularly interested to see if meditation could help with sleeplessness – the same reason Christiane first attempted meditation with her own daughter.

Helen’s daughter Hannah had problems relaxing at bedtime and alternatives had not seemed to be effective. Meditation had helped clam her down and helped to relax the children when they were “wound up about things”.

Helen said the classes had also helped her son Alex. She said: “At the moment there are these Pokemon cards which kids can get really upset about if they do bad swaps.

“Alex and Hannah were getting quite distracted after tea-time and I thought we would do the breathing exercises. They really helped them calm down. They really enjoy the classes and are looking forward to next term.”

Helen also believes children are more receptive to meditation as they are not as quick to judge as many adults, for whom it can “conjure up weird ideas”.

It seems to be agreed that children face more stress in their daily lives in the classroom and in the playground.

Kerr said “children’s lives are very frenetic. Even getting to school and back in the car – I think kids really pick up on their parents stress”. There is undoubtedly more academic pressure and constant testing affects parents as well.

“For children to be able to calm themselves is a really good life skill. To understand the value of stillness.”

However only a handful of schools in the UK have meditation classes, though Kerr is hopeful that more will catch on.

Professor David Fontana, a psychologist and co-author of the book Meditation for Children, argues that meditating will appeal to some children and not others in the same way it appeals to some adults and not others – though he is convinced more young people could benefit from learning to listen to their inner voice.

“I think the time to introduce it is around the age they start school. There is not doubt it can increase a child’s attention span and as a result improve memory.

“It allows the child to recognise the value of silence and it teaches them allow their mind and body to relax.”

Fontana also believes it is just as important to prepare children for the stresses of later life , as many of the anxieties in adulthood first appear at an early age.

Kerr said: “There is such a barrrage of external stimuli like TV, video and computer games that children don’t use their inner resources. During meditation you are looking inward to promote a sense of well-being.”

Christiane Kerr 020 8742 1326
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