Yes, Your Kid Can Meditate

When the world stopped and schools closed, students missed everything from prom to detention. Households became bubbles. Loss became the norm. After a prolonged public health crisis, a mental health crisis looms as families cope with lingering stress and the long tail effects of a global lockdown.

Though zivaKIDS has been in development for years, its release seems prescient in the midst of a pandemic. The online meditation training promises to change not only your child's mood, but their brain, wiring them for resilience and emotional intelligence.

“It’s about letting kids know that they can turn inside to access their creativity, bravery and kindness,” says founder and meditation coach Emily Fletcher (MMT Member since 2019). 

Two courses were designed in collaboration with Harvard psychologists, parenting experts and pediatricians. PLAY is for ages 4 to 8, and GROW is for tweens and teens ages 9 to 14. In PLAY, the first lesson tackles a fear of show-and-tell with Z Bunny, Fletcher's co-star, a character created with help from a Sesame Street writer and puppeteer. 

Z Bunny is not only adorable, but poignant, touching on social awkwardness and performance anxiety that transcend age: "What do I have to show? What do I have to tell? Nothing!" 

The lesson continues with a song about “stormy” feelings and how to shake them out—all with minimal supervision from busy parents. This is screen time you can feel great about. 

“I want to give parents a big hall pass,” Fletcher assures. “They have so much on their plates. I don’t want them to also feel like the meditation police.” 

We spoke to Fletcher about the best age to start meditation, why parents should let kids lead, and why she was reluctant to make zivaKIDS in the first place. 

What inspired zivaKIDS?

It was our most requested course for years. I said no. I know I’m good at teaching high performing adults, but there’s an art to teaching kids. Once I had my son I thought, I get it. I now know what it’s like to have your heart living outside of your chest. I know what it’s like to feel the pain of your child. I thought, I don’t have to be the best teacher for kids. I can find the best. 

The first call I made was to one of my former meditation students, who is a puppeteer at Sesame Street. We got Dr. Shefali on board, who is Oprah’s parenting expert. We got a dream team of collaborators to create Z Bunny, my co-star. Every word of the training has been vetted by psychologists and experts. It’s been a labor of love we’ve been working on for two years. We had no idea the pandemic was going to break out, but the timing is perfect. 

Science is now proving that loneliness is worse for us than smoking, physiologically. Even though many countries are coming out of the pandemic, we still have to contend with the long tail psychological and emotional ramifications. I’m thrilled zivaKIDS is coming out now when kids need tools to process these big emotions. 

How does meditation change a child’s brain? Are there benefits to starting early?

Kids are in a different state of consciousness than adults. They’re in a beta state until about eight years old. There’s something wonderful about getting kids involved when they’re still in this state of presence, this right brain integration. If you can help them curate their consciousness while they’re already naturally in it, it’s easier for them to hold onto that authenticity and sense of wonder and turning inward for their happiness. When that window closes, their brain state changes.

If you were to teach an 80-year-old to meditate, it still works, but now they have decades of stress to contend with. If kids meditate, it doesn’t remove external stressors or demands, but it does change the way the brain and body metabolize that stress. 

MMT Member and ZivaKIDS founder Emily Fletcher with her co-star, Z Bunny, a character designed to make meditation more accessible for kids. 

What are some tips for parents who want to get their kids into meditation

We have been working hard to make zivaKIDS entertaining. All you have to do is hit ‘play’ while you’re making dinner, while your child is coloring, or on a road trip. Let your kid come to it. See if they become curious. If someone doesn’t want to meditate, you can’t make them. Trust me, I’ve tried! If I could make people meditate, I would! That rule applies to children, too. 

The best thing we can do is lead by example. Ninety-nine percent of the time, our stress as parents is impacting them. And kids are going to learn from what we do, not what we say. If parents are sitting down to their Ziva practice, kids are more likely to do it—especially if they see the positive benefits. We have kids writing in saying, ‘Mommy is a lot funnier and she yells less after she meditates!’ So that’s step one: lead by example. Step two: don’t feel like you need to be a meditation police officer if your kid isn’t practicing every day. 

Are they drawn to it? What are parents saying? 

My favorite feedback so far is parents writing in saying, ‘I can’t believe my kid is really meditating!’ They’re so shocked and surprised and thrilled that their kid wants to do the training. 

How is zivaKIDS different from other kids’ meditation programs?

I searched for years because I did not want to make zivaKIDS! I liked working with adults, high-performing CEOs and celebrities, this is my wheelhouse. Once I became a mom, I thought, what can I share with my son? I couldn’t find anything that was both powerful and entertaining. 

There are a lot of apps out there. When you say “meditation” most people think of Calm or Headspace. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to those because they made meditation mainstream. Calm is more for sleeping. Headspace is for mindfulness, which is beautiful, but it’s really the appetizer of the Ziva technique. We teach mindfulness, meditation and manifesting. 

The other important piece is we’re teaching kids how to do this on their own. Yes, I want this to be entertaining and yes, I want them to fall in love with Z Bunny, but I don’t want them to be tethered to a screen. To me, that’s like having an AA meeting in a liquor store. Why would you want to go to your phone to meditate? I’m using technology to get the tools to kids, but I cannot overstate the value of self-sufficiency. 

What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness is great for handling stress in the now, but it’s not handling your stress from the past. Even children have stress stored inside them from their past—trauma from birth, potty training, the first time they went to school. They need more than just a state change. They need meditation which heals you on a cellular level. Over time, it’s the accumulation of stress that makes us stupid, sick and slow. 

The pitch I make to both children and adults is: We meditate to get good at life, not meditation. When people start to practice Ziva they say—'oh, I am a better writer,’ ‘I am a better mom,’ ‘I did better on that test today.’ That’s a by-product of eradicating that stress in your nervous system.

We also do zivaKIDS meetups on Zoom.

Meditation meetups?

We have kids from all over the world connecting! Some kids might be the only ones in their class or their school or town that has a daily meditation practice. That can get lonely. It’s much easier to create healthy habits when you have a community. We created a space for kids to come together to share success and challenges. It’s so fun. Though I did have to break their hearts that Z Bunny wasn’t there. Just boring old me! 

What do you hope for the impact of zivaKids?

That a whole generation of kids are equipped to process their feelings in real time. That a whole generation feels safe enough to feel not just happy, creative and kind, but also sad and scared and angry. Many of us were trained to repress our emotions. Those emotions don’t go anywhere. They lead to chronic illness or addiction later on in life. The big goal is to give kids the safety to feel all of their emotions so they can process them in real time.  

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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