Kids are naturally egocentric, and I say this as an educator without judgement and malice. The revolutionary child psychologist Jean Piaget described “Egocentrism” in 1951 as a natural part of a child’s development. He said that until the age of about 7, children are unable (UNABLE, not unwilling) to infer and understand the perspectives, views, and feelings of other people. Their world view is simply their own perspective, and they have no way to process other people’s viewpoints. At about six or seven, most children begin to move out of this egocentric phase and become more empathetic. When the mental shift begins, you have the unique opportunity to guide their growth in this important social skill.
I like to use variations of the classic Metta Meditation. This beautiful set of thoughts has been scientifically proven to improve happiness by 10%. At its most basic, the repeated phrases are: “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at peace.” Then you repeat the phrase, substituting someone you care about: “May _____ be well. May ____ be happy. May ____ be at peace.” You can then add in someone you may not be so fond of. And finally, send the meditation to the whole world: “May the entire universe be well…”.
In my variations, I try to make the meditation more visual and thereby easier for children to relate to. Here are two guided visualization scripts based on the Metta Meditation. For each one, simply have your child lie down comfortably in a quiet room. They can close their eyes and listen as you calmly read the words.
Sunshine: Imagine you are lying on the beach and you feel the sun warming you. You aren’t too hot, but you feel the warm sun filling your whole body. You feel its wonderful golden warmth on your feet and legs. You feel the sun’s light on your hips, stomach, and chest. The sun fills you up to your head where your lips, jaw, cheeks, eyes, and forehead begin to feel soft and warm. Doesn’t it feel wonderful to be still? You are relaxed, glowing and happy. Now imagine somebody you love, somebody that makes you happy, lying in the sun with you. Give them a smile. Then picture someone that gives you trouble and smile at them, too, and invite them to rest in the sunshine with you. Now take their hands and the three of you rest together in the warm, golden sun. Each of you are filling with light. Just be still and feel yourself and the other people with you filling up with light. Isn’t it nice to share this warmth with someone else?
The Growing Heart: Become very still, so still you can feel your heart beating in your chest. Picture yourself inside your heart center and tell yourself: “I am loved. I am love. I am peaceful. I am peace. ” Then picture someone you love in your heart center, surrounded by your heart’s energy and send them love saying, “___ is loved. ___ is love. ___ is peaceful. ___ is peace.” Then start feeling your heart and heartbeat grow past your chest, beyond your body, filling up the room. Send your heart energy to people in the room, and feel them sending their love back to you. Breathe in the love, breathe out and grow your heart to fill the school/house/library/etc. with love. Breathe in and feel the love coming back to you, filling you up. With each exhale, the heart grows until the whole city, the whole state, the whole country, even the whole earth and universe are filled with your heart’s energy and love. And then as you breathe in, your receive that love back to yourself. “I am loved. I am love. I am peaceful. I am peace.”