Nourishing the Hearts and Minds of Children
“For children to be well-rounded humans they need education of the heart as well as the mind.”
Everyone can benefit from cultivating love and kindness in their hearts. When we do, we can live, speak, and act out of love. Loving-kindness meditation, which can be introduced at any age, is a practical way to touch our hearts with love for all beings, including ourselves. This kind of meditation grows a kind, loving, open heart and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religious belief or previous meditation practice. Sylvia Boorstein, co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, describes loving-kindness as “growing fat with love.”
Loving-kindness, or Boundless Friendliness, is known in the Buddhist tradition as one of the Four Heart Qualities. The practice was originally prescribed to a group of Buddhist monks as a remedy for their fear of living and meditating in a dark, haunted forest. In light of this story and those from so many religious traditions, it makes sense to shower the world and ourselves with loving-kindness in times of both peace and difficulty.
Loving-kindness meditation is practiced by repeating a series of well wishes during a period of quiet sitting or walking. You can also offer well wishes to yourself or others at any time, especially when difficulty arises. The traditional trajectory of this practice is to offer loving wishes first to yourself and then expand the scope by offering them to a benefactor, then a familiar stranger, a difficult person, and finally to all beings. The traditional well wishes are: “May I be filled with love”; “May I be safe and protected”; “May I be healthy and strong”; and, “May I be at ease.” These well wishes can be changed according to your heart’s deepest wishes.
Benefits For Children
For children to be well-rounded humans they need education of the heart as well as the mind, and loving-kindness can affect both positively.
I believe loving-kindness can contribute to the achievement of child developmental milestones, increasing connection, empathy, and cooperation. We all know that when we feel loving and at ease, we also feel more connected, resilient, and kind. In this state, we’re also more generous and giving toward others. We can see this in our children as well. Being able to more readily access a loving, caring state can help them experience connection and cooperation more often.
Though still in its infancy, there is some research on school-based mindfulness programs. Most of these programs teach loving-kindness meditation as part of the curriculum. The research shows improvements in the mental, emotional, social and physical health, and well-being of young people. It also shows contributions to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. Practicing loving-kindness meditation can boost positive emotions, compassion, empathy as well as quiet one’s inner critic, according to research.
Loving-kindness practice provides a simple, concrete way for children to manage their inner world of thoughts and feelings. When they have a well-established, kind interior language, children can soothe the inner critics that cause them so much strife.
Moreover, when children deeply sense their own goodness through loving-kindness practice, they depend more on themselves for a sense of worthiness rather than on how others treat them. They more readily see themselves as good and project that goodness out into the world. They also become more resilient and experience fewer hurt feelings in the face of mistakes, bullying, rude comments, or taunting.
Some years ago one of my loving-kindness teachers said, “In order to be wise, we must be kind.” When the mind and heart are both nourished, wisdom can arise. It is heartening to think our children could grow to be wise adults.
When taking a wider view of the value of providing loving-kindness meditation to children, the prospects are bright. The Dalai Lama said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be?
Read more of what the Dalai Lama thinks the youth of today are capable of.