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5 Reasons Kids with ADHD Need to Learn Mindfulness Skills

Little girl meditating on a field

5 Reasons Kids with ADHD Need to Learn Mindfulness Skills

By Debra Burdick, LCSW, BCN, author of Mindfulness for Kids with ADHD

Everyone is talking about mindfulness these days.  And we hear more and more about the impact of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on children’s lives.  But did you know that mindfulness has been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD?  Here are five compelling reasons why kids with ADHD need to learn mindfulness skills.

Reason #1.  The definition of mindfulness relates directly to the symptoms of ADHD.

What's the most important thing to pay attention to thought bubblesWhat does mindfulness have to do with ADHD? According to Jon Kabat-Zin, mindfulness can be defined as,

Paying attention        

to something

in a particular way

on purpose

in the present moment

non-judgmentally.”

For kids with inattentive or combined types of ADHD, paying attention is a core challenge.  Since practicing mindfulness teaches the brain to pay attention, it addresses exactly what kids with ADHD struggle with. Mindfulness can also calm the brain and the body, and improve the ability to be more present and self-aware. This is particularly helpful for those with hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Therefore, mindfulness is a perfect way for kids with ADHD to thrive. 

Reason # 2.  Studies show that mindfulness can improve ADHD symptoms.

Studies show that mindfulness can help kids improve a variety of things that those with ADHD particularly need help with, including:

  • Increased:
    • emotional regulation
    • social skills
    • ability to orient attention
    • working memory, planning, organization
    • self-esteem
    •  sense of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance
    • quality of sleep
  • Decreased:
    • test anxiety
    • ADHD behaviors—hyperactivity and impulsivity
    • anxiety and depression
    • anger management problems

By teaching kids with ADHD basic mindfulness skills, we can gain improvements in all these areas.  Use the acronym IPOLAR to help kids remember the basic mindfulness process behind all mindfulness skills.

  • (I) Set your intention to pay attention to something in particular.  This can be your breath, your surroundings, your body, your senses, your thoughts, your emotions, the task you are doing such as homework.
  • (P) Pay attention to what you’ve set your intention to pay attention to.
  • (O) Observe when you are distracted.
  • (L) Let it go. Let go of the distracted thought.
  • (A) And
  • (R) Return your attention to what you set the intention to pay attention to. 

Reason # 3.  When kids become mindful of how ADHD impacts their life, including what they excel at and what they need help with, they can take action to help them succeed.

A great place for kids to start practicing mindfulness is to become more aware of how ADHD is impacting their life.  This will enable them to know what they need help with as well as what their strengths are.

Here’s how:

  • Ask them to help you make a list of how you both see ADHD impacting their life.
    • Are they getting distracted while: getting dressed, eating, brushing their teeth, getting ready in the morning, playing, doing what they are told, reading, with other kids, doing homework, keeping track of assignments, paying attention to the teacher?
    • Do they struggle with grades, making friends, losing things, getting bored, disrupting the classroom, getting yelled at in class, feeling like a failure?
    • Are they super smart, creative, or quick witted?
  • Ask them what they could do to help them stay on task in the most challenging areas?
  • Circle the three most positive areas and find ways to incorporate more of them.

Reason # 4.  Kids can focus better when they become mindful of what’s the most important thing to pay attention to.

  • Help kids ask themselves, “What’s the most important thing to pay attention to in a particular setting?”  For example, while: eating, getting dressed, brushing teeth, doing homework, sitting in the classroom, talking?  
  • Help them make a list of the various things they do and places they go such as getting ready in the morning, being in the classroom, at ball practice or dance class, doing homework. 
  • Ask them to write down the most important thing to pay attention to in each setting.

Reason #5.  Kids can use mindfulness skills to helps them improve self-regulation, attention, hyperactivity, and manage emotions.

Kids with ADHD often experience intense emotions and stress.  They can use mindfulness skills to help them identify these emotions, and when needed, to shift them to a more helpful emotion.  Here’s a simple breathing technique (Relaxation Breath) to calm their mind and body. Try it now. (Burdick, 2018)

  • Breathe in through your nose as if you are smelling a flower while you count to four (1-2-3-4).
  • Breathe slowly out through your mouth as if you are blowing a huge bubble while you count to eight (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8).
  • Do it again. Breathe in through your nose while you count to four (1-2-3-4), as though you are smelling a flower, and breathe out slowly through your mouth while you count to eight (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8), while you imagine you are blowing a huge bubble.
  • One more time. Breathe in calm. Breathe out and relax your mind and body.
  • Notice how you feel after doing this.

Mindfulness has proven to be so helpful to kids with ADHD that is seems like a “no-brainer” to incorporate mindfulness skills into their everyday life as much as possible.  And kids love them.

Mindfulness for Kids with ADHD coverDebra Burdick, LCSW, BCN, also known as “The Brain Lady,” is an international expert on mindfulness and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She is author of ADHD Non-Medication Treatment and Skills for Children and Teens; Mindfulness Skills for Kids and Teens; Mindfulness for Teens with ADHD; Mindfulness Skills Workbook for Clinicians and Clients; the Mindfulness Skills for Kids card deck and games; and several mindfulness CDs/MP3s. She teaches all-day workshops, including 100 Brain-Changing Mindfulness Strategies for Clinical Practice, Childhood ADHD, and Mindfulness Toolkit for Kids and Teens.