How to Use Mindfulness to Manage ADHD
Mindfulness – The psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. It’s harder than it sounds. Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be taught and requires practice to use well.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that it becomes challenging to remember to use these skills in the moments that you actually need them most, but with practice, it can be done. Mindfulness is often taught in counseling for people dealing with anxiety. But, you can also help your child manage ADHD through mindfulness.
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When being mindful, you are aware of your bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and what is happening around you
Benefits of Mindfulness For Kids With ADHD
1. Boosts Working Memory
Children with ADHD are four times more likely to have working memory problems, compared to their peers. This has a serious impact on learning. It makes it difficult to follow instructions, take notes from a speaker, remember where they need to be, remember to do (or pack) their homework, etc.
Research has shown there are benefits of mindfulness in improving working memory. There is a direct relationship between working memory capacity increasing over time with regular mindfulness meditation practice.
Clearly, that’s great news for your kiddo if this is a challenge for them.
2. Improves Focus
Okay, the ADHD poster child is the child who can’t focus and constantly deals with inattention. Distractibility and concentration challenges are common for children with ADHD.
You can help your child improve their focus and manage ADHD through mindfulness because the act of “being present” bring focus to what is happening, improving attentional functioning.
3. Emotional Regulation
Does your child tend to have a reaction that is too extreme for the size of their problem? Over-the-top reactions or meltdowns are common in children with ADHD because they often struggle with emotional regulation (which goes hand-in-hand with executive functions).
Practicing mindfulness allows the individual to more consciously choose the thoughts, emotions, and sensations they identify with, rather than habitually reacting to every emotion or thought they have.
Mindfulness Activities for Children
Right now you are probably thinking “Wow, those benefits sound awesome. But how am I supposed to teach this to my child? Where do I start?”
First of all – I recommend you start having the entire family participate in mindful activities because they benefit everyone. Don’t force your child to participate, but encourage them. If you are taking part in mindful exercises and your kid wants to sit on the couch, allow them.
They will still see and hear you, and will hopefully be intrigued and join in. So, I am going to start with some activities that you can do each day to promote mindfulness.
1. Mindful Eating Exercise
Doing a mindful eating activity is a great place to start with children when teaching mindfulness.
It’s a much better way to engage your child and help them to understand what mindfulness is than the traditional guided meditation or breathing (that comes later)
- Give your child a piece of food and instruct them not to eat it, yet. (This could be something like a piece of chocolate, or a berry) You can bring out multiple foods at once to allow them to think about the differences between each one.
- Tell them to imagine they have never tried this food before and to hold it in their hand and think about how it feels (the temperature, texture, etc)
- Then to bring it up to this nose and think about how it smells.
- Ask them if smelling the food evokes any emotions (hint – the urge to eat it – you may need to point that out to them).
- Finally, tell them to eat the food –really slowly. Ask them how it feels as they chew – any changes in texture, or flavor, etc.
This is the perfect way to introduce mindfulness to your children because it brings them into the present moment in an enjoyable way.
2. Out-loud Sense Noting
This is an activity where you take turns noticing what is happening around you, and then you give the other a sense to notice (Taste, touch, hear, smell, seeing, thinking).
- Start by saying “Right now I am noticing ….”
- State something you notice in the given category. For example “Right now I am noticing the sound of the cars driving by outside”.
- Then, give your child a sense for their turn.
This activity encourages active listening and can also help your child, and even you, to pay attention to things you may not notice normally.
Coloring is a great way to encourage your children to relax and be in the present. It is a means of self-regulating. Encourage them to color in silence.
Be Happy & Color is a beautiful children’s mindful coloring book available through Amazon. The coloring book was created by Hannah Klaus Hunter, an art therapist at a children’s hospital. The book helps children learn to express themselves and support their emotional well-being.
There are guided therapeutic instructions along with the pictures, to promote feelings of calm, happiness, and well-being and help children combat feelings of sadness or anxiety.
4. The Mindful Jar
Also known as a sensory jar, or a calm down jar. These are a fun DIY activity to do with your kids. You and your child should make the jars together. You’ll find a million versions of this Pinterest, but this one is my personal favorite.
When the jar is complete shake it up and have your child to watch the jar until all of the glitter settles. It’s mesmerizing.
You can relate this to mindfulness by explaining to your child that our thoughts and feelings are just like the glitter – when we are upset, they spin all over the place inside our head. We need them all to settle before we can calm down.
Plus, the act of watching the glitter is calming in itself and it’s also a great visually stimulating activity.
5. Flower and Candle Breathing
Deep breathing is a key part of being mindful and necessary to learn if you want to manage ADHD through mindfulness. Flower and Candle breathing is a visual to encourage deep breathing. Click here for your free printable visual for this activity.
Get your child to pretend to smell the flower (take a deep breath in), and then count to three (hold), and then blow the candles out (blowing a deep breath out).
This tool can be used as a visual prompt when your child is upset, and as a practical guide when you’re doing mindfulness activities.
6. Body Scan
The following steps for doing a body scan with your child were found on www.mindful.org and were written by Mark Bertin, author of “Mindful Parenting for ADHD”.
Listen and save to the guided body scan, or click the link to read the step-by-step process.
Dr. Mark Bertin is a developmental & behavioral pediatrician. His book about mindful parenting is available on Amazon.
I have personally used guided body scans for myself to help become calm and focused. If you haven’t tried it yourself, as a parent, look on YouTube and try some short guided meditations.
I also attended a webinar about how to manage ADHD with mindfulness. The woman speaking on the webinar recommended this book of mindful activities for kids. The book is amazing (check out the ‘look inside‘ on Amazon), it has 55 activities and they are all explained step by step and easy to follow.
Observing Your Mind
We are not our thoughts or our feelings. If your child can understand that and view their thoughts and feelings as separate from themselves, they can learn to not allow their thoughts to have control over their behavior. And, the truth is our negative thoughts are usually blown out of proportion.
The pattern is thought —> feelings —> behavior
“I’m too stupid to do this math work” —> sadness and frustration —> skips school
When children learn that they are separate from their thoughts, they will also understand that they have control over how they react to these thoughts.
I know it sounds really complex but don’t underestimate your kiddos. They are more self-aware than you may realize.
Thoughts are like trains
Teach your child that their thoughts are like trains passing through a station. Your child has the ability to stand at the station and watch the trains go by.
Sometimes a train passes straight by, and sometimes it stops to stay for a while. This may make them feel upset, scared, anxious, etc. But these trains will leave the station too. Have your child “watch” as the train leaves.
Explain that in time, just like the train, our thoughts move on and we stay behind.
This simple exercise can teach our kids we don’t have to react to every thought. We can simply observe them. In doing this, the goal is not to change our thoughts, but rather to change our relationship with them.
There is no one size fits all method of managing ADHD, everyone is unique. Whether taking the natural approach or medicating, mindfulness can be a helpful addition to your plan.
Another great item to have in your ADHD parent toolbox is the right omega-3 supplement. Get some more information here on how Omega-3 affects ADHD.