Helping Children Learn Mindfulness to Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Health Writer

In the past few years, the idea that meditation andmindfulness can help improve ADHD symptoms has been gaining steam.Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment, without judging your thoughts. Awareness is the first step toward changing any behavior. When you allow yourself to notice your behaviors, without the added baggage of berating yourself for them, you can work toward improving them. Some research shows that practicing mindfulness every day can help reduce ADHD symptoms.Meditation also helps lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, which are common in those with ADHD.

While meditation and mindfulness are most often practiced by adults, children can also benefit. The following are five simple exercises to help your child learn to meditate and become more mindful.

Tune in to your surroundings. This exercise helps children become more mindful of their surroundings and their senses. Sit with your child. Close your eyes and direct your child to close his. Listen to the sounds around you. Ask your child to tell you what he hears. Ask him to notice whether the sounds are near or far. Explain that he shouldn’t judge whether the sound is good or bad, just pay attention to the sounds. You can do this with the different senses, taking time to pay attention to each sense separately. This helps your child focus on the present moment.

Deep breathing for relaxation. This exercise can be done anywhere, at any time, and helps your child slow down or calm down. To start, have your child lay down with her hands resting on her abdomen. Have your child slowly breathe in, counting to five, and then breathe out, counting to five. During the “in” breath, your child’s hands should slowly raise and during the “out” breath, they should lower. You can also have your child place one hand on her chest, explaining that this hand shouldn’t move. This exercise teaches your child to breathe through the diaphragm. Ask your child to notice how the breath feels going in and out of his body. Explain that anytime she is overwhelmed, anxious or upset, taking a few moments to deep breath will help her calm herself.

Create a safe place in your mind. Talk to your child about a place he feels safe and secure. It could be inside a blanket fort in the living room, cuddling with you, playing in the sand by the ocean or spending time in your garden. Have your child close his eyes and pretend he is there. Have him describe what it looks like, how it smells, what he hears. Have him describe his feelings when he is in this place. The more detailed, the better. After your child is finished, explain that he can retreat to this safe place, in his mind, any time he is upset, overwhelmed or anxious.

What’s going on right now? Occasionally stop what you are doing to pay attention to what is going on at that moment. Have your child use his senses to describe the moment - what does he see, feel, smell, taste and hear. You can have him focus on one sense at a time if it is easier.

Watch your thoughts. Have your child imagine a bunch of helium filled balloons. Explain that thoughts just are – they aren’t good or bad, they are simply thoughts. Your child can imagine placing a thought into a balloon and watching it float away. This helps teach your child that thoughts come and go. This might be a hard concept for your child to understand but it is a good introduction to mindfulness.

In the beginning, it might be hard for your child to sit still or slow their mind down long enough to pay attention to their surroundings but with practice it will get easier and these are tools your child can use for many years as a way to slow down or calm down.

For more information on mindfulness and meditation:

Can Mindfulness Help Reduce ADHD Symptoms in Adults?

Infographic: Mindfulness Meditation

4 Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

8 Reasons to Try Mindfulness Meditation