How to make meditation not “boring, boring and boring”

This is not actually my son Lucas. It is “Kevin The Teenager.”

I wrote The Resilient Child Bedtime meditations for my son, Lucas.

When I first suggested to Lucas that he might like to listen to a meditation, he said “Meditation… boring, boring and boring. Medi-boring. Medi-boringface.” He then thought for a moment and added “Medi-boringface meditations from Medi-boringville.”

Lucas is 8 going on 18. He’s already entered that phase where he sometimes acts like this when I ask him to do something…

So I knew that if he was going to listen to a meditation for more than 2 seconds, he would have to want to do it without any prompting from me. It would have to be a “Want To Do” rather than a “Have To Do.”

This meant that the meditation would have to be 3 things –

  1. Engaging (i.e. definitely not booooring)
  2. Effective (i.e. had definite positive results and was 100% worth the initial fight/persuasion it’d take him to listen)
  3. More-ish (i.e. would be used more than once and long-term if possible)

There’s an added challenge to this one: Lucas, like many other kids, can have trouble falling asleep. Meditation has been shown time and time again to be effective at helping sleep. Those wise people in white coats have also demonstrated that the subconscious can be more receptive when we’re in a state of sleepy wakefulness. This meant that these meditations would need to work their magic at bedtime. They’d need to somehow engage and enchant, whilst also not waking my kiddo up. These meditations would have to be Bedtime Stories.

I’ve written stories for my whole career. For over 20 years, I’ve written kids’ books and kids’ animated series as well as drama and documentary for a wide television audience. I’d like to hope that I’m OK at writing stories by now.

A story which hooks a child or teen in without perking them up? That’s a new challenge. Hmmm. No car chases, then. Explosions? Nope. Umm. Superhero powers? Hmm… maybe, but only quietish ones. Magic? Well, of course, but without “bangs” and stuff.

So, super-tricky, why am I bothering? This comes into play with “Important Point” number 2 above. Effectiveness. Meditation can be transformative. No, it really can. I promise. I’ve researched and researched the science;  study after study shows that meditation can help sleep, decrease anxiety, increase memory, boost attention, increase compassion, regulate emotions, calm the nervous system, enhance adaptability, step aggression and power positive thinking. Phew!

Here’s one example – Vistacion Valley School in San Francisco found that meditating for just 15 minutes a day for boosted classroom behavior, attention and academic performance by unprecedented levels. Studies of schools in the UK and USA reveal that daily meditation decreases stress levels, depression symptoms and disruptive behavior and increases social and emotional skills, compassion and wellbeing in teen and elementary students.

OK, so it’s worth the effort. BUT, because I somehow always set myself the biggest challenge possible, I wanted these meditations to do a double job; I wanted the meditations to work harder. This seemed like a real opportunity. I realized that these meditations were a chance to teach kids resilience skills. What are some of the most important aspects of resilience? The experts such as Laura Markham and Kristen Neff say self-compassion, compassion for others, working with negative thoughts and mindfulness. Soooo, the stories had to teach kids those skills whilst exciting the listener enough to be engaged even just sub-consciously (!), but not too awake.

I researched and researched how to teach these particular skills to kids as well as what techniques are most effective at making a meditation transformative and, um, meditative. (e.g. stimulating the senses, the type of words used, the rhythm of phrases). I looked at the brilliant work of top meditation experts such as Elisha Goldstein, Jon Kabat- Zinn,  Sharon Salzberg, Deepak Chopra, Emily Fletcher, Elena Brower, Andy Puddicombe, Tara Brach. Research. Research. Research.

H’OK, research done. Time to write. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. I threw quite a lot of storylines in the trash. I then wrote some new ones. I created a child and teen-friendly character who’d tell the stories and I created narratives which’d keep kids listening. Casting the voices was interesting – I felt a bit like Goldilocks. “Ooh! Too high. Ooh! Too low. Ooh! Too soft!” Eventually, I cast some very successful voice actors who are mesmerizing in all the right ways. Each meditation would have two different versions – one read by a man, one by a woman. Different kids prefer different voices, after all.

I also made sure there were sound effects to transport a child to another world, to make them feel like they were part of the story. The music isn’t the usual plinky, plonky, yawny, yawny type either. It’s emotive and interesting. At least, I hoped it was. I’d finished the meditations. It was time to test them out on my son. I know it sounds silly, but I was nervous.

I’d written 2 series of 4 meditations, one for younger kids ages 4-7 and one for 8-teens. Both were subtly, but crucially different: Teens like to have more explanation and information to believe what they are told. They also prefer more complex language and don’t want too much “encouragement” or they feel patronized. Younger kids prefer more simple language, less explanation and like more description and encouragement. I tried Lucas on the younger stories first.

The next morning, I asked him how the meditation was. “Good,” he replied and then snickered. I thought he was snickering at me, but it was actually because his younger sister had just tripped over her own foot.  This was a genuine “good.” A “good” was GOOD! I had to stifle my instinctive Happy Dance. Then, that evening, Lucas asked for another meditation. He did. Without the eye-roll too!At bedtime that night, he slipped on his “do not touch them!” headphones, lay down on his Emoji character pillow, rolled his eyes at me… and pressed “play.” And. He. Fell. Asleep! Just before the meditation ended, he disappeared into Zzz land. Yes! (I know this because I was sneakily watching him through a crack in the door like a Meditation Ninja Spy.)

And he’s been listening to meditations ever since.  Sometimes he falls asleep during the breath and body relaxation part which begins each meditation; sometimes he listens to the whole 20-25 minutes. He likes both the woman and man’s voices. He genuinely enjoys all 8 meditations. He chooses to listen to them. As he gets older, he’ll move onto the other 8 in the older collection too. This could be a long-term thing for him. Yay!

I also listen to them. I’m not comfortable with blowing my own trumpet, but I’m going to give it a tiny “toot” here. Toot! I really do hope your kids will enjoy the Resilient Child Bedtime Meditations as much as my family does (Amber, my 5 year-old, joins the gang when she’s not tripping over her own foot)… or I hope they at least find them a bit more interesting than ordinary Medi-boringface Meditations from Medi-boringville.

Resilient Child Meditations are original, story-based meditations to help guide children to sleep while teaching them crucial Resilience Skills. This set includes 16 meditations broken up into 2 series, one for younger kids ages 4-7 and one for 8-18. Both are subtly, but crucially different. Our research shows that teens appreciate explanation and information to buy in to the stories being told. Younger kids prefer more simple language, less explanation and like more description and encouragement.

Learn more about The Resilient Child Bedtime Meditation Package here.

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