The importance of modelling for children if we hope they might grow up to choose a meditation practice, means two things for adults who might feel inclined to guide children towards silent prayer:

  1. We need to be living surrendered lives in relationship to the people around us, but in particular in relationship to the children for whom we have responsibility. We need to demonstrate to the children we care for that we will not manipulate them. We will not use our power in any way to diminish them. We will not enter into power struggles. We will let go of our need for them to fulfill our wishes, needs, wants, and demands.

Apart from the necessary disciplines of keeping safe and functioning with the basic skills of social relationship, we will allow the children around us the freedom to explore, discover, and try out new ways of being. We will not shout them down, or demand that they conform to some pre-determined pattern of behaviour we have decided is correct.

It will only be possible for us to fulfill this vision to the degree that we are practicing the art of surrender in our own lives. If our child-care is rooted in ego, we will never be able to demonstrate a life that children might want to grow up and freely choose to emulate. We must be practicing surrender in our lives if we ever hope to see children grow into adults who will freely choose the path of surrender.

a. If we hope to see children grow up and choose to include silent prayer in their lives, we must have a practice of silent prayer in our own lives. Children learn to value the things they know adults hold to be important.

When our grand-children visit they always see Grandma and Grandpa’s Zafus sitting on their Zabutons in front of our small meditation altars. They ring our meditation bells and play with our battery-operated meditation timers. Often when they arrive, they know they are to enter the house quietly because Grandma is still having her quiet time.

Recently, in the car with their mother our grand-daughters, were making up new verses to the Raffi song, “The wheels on the bus.” One of the verses our middle grand-daughter came up with was, “The Grandpa on the bus meditates, meditates, meditates; the Grandpa on the bus meditates, all around the town.”

They know we meditate. They understand we value silence.

b. The second thing we can do that will help open children to the possibility that, when the time is right for them, they may choose a discipline of silent prayer is to introduce them to small moments of silence early in their lives.

While teaching full blown Centering Prayer may be a challenge with young children, they can certainly be introduced to the practice of silence. Even just a few minutes of quiet and stillness can begin to nurture in a child a taste for the gentleness and nurture of meditative prayer. It is this taste that will return to them later in life and begin to call them into that practice that leads to a deeper experience of silence and a richer openness to God’s presence.

There are teachers in school classrooms who have led children as young as five and six years old to sit quietly in class for a few minutes.

Recently, teaching a class on prayer to grade 10 to 12 students, I rang a meditation bell and had them sit for five minutes in complete silence. They remained for the most part, completely still and perfectly silent. There was no giggling or shuffling of feet. At the end, when I asked how it felt, one student said, “It felt peaceful.”

We do children a disservice when we fail to give them credit for the ability to be still and quiet.