More studies show that mindfulness or meditation can have a positive effect on both the behavoir, impulsivity and hyperactivity of children and youngsters with ADHD.
Children and youngsters with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often display behaviour that is inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive. The most widely used 'treatments' are medication and behavioral treatments (2).
However, in the latest years, interest in other non-medical therapies have created interest for the effects of meditation and mindfulness.
An alarming finding shows that the risk for suicide in youngsters with ADHD is nearly three times higher than in control groups, indicating the severe need to develop and investigate new treatments for people with ADHD. Mindfulness-based interventions have shown positive effects on adults suffering from depression, stress, pain and illness (1), and supports the assumption that similar results could be found for children and youngsters.
For a child with ADHD, the right frontal side of their brain operates differently. This is the region of the brain responsible for the development of coping strategies, which can affect the ability to handle stress (3). Furthermore, children with ADHD have high cortisol levels (stress hormone) and studies have shown that stress interferes with executive functions associated with working memory, impulse control and coping strategies as well as behaviour regulations. Stress also compromises selective attention as well as the ability to sustain attention (3). Therefore stress is an additional negative factor as it reinforces the characteristics of ADHD, which often cause challenging situations for the individual with ADHD.
Meditation and mindfulness training could prove to be an effective treatment for ADHD, as mindfulness meditation reduces stress, and focuses on increasing the individual’s ability to control attention, and reduce automatic responses.
All evidence is in favour of mindfulness training as being a relevant and effective treatment for children and youngsters with ADHD (1).
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness training is an intervention based on eastern meditation techniques, that helps increasing awareness of the present moment, enhances non-judgmental observation, and reduces automatic responding (2).
In a study of 6-week Sahaja yoga meditation training for 4 to 12-year-old children and their parents, parents reported significantly improved characteristics such as improvements of anxiety and self-esteem, and reduction of parent-child conflict.
Another study with 11 to 15-year-old boys and girls, showed a reduction of externalizing, internalizing and attention problems, while executive functioning improved on self-report measures. The reports were also confirmed by enhanced performance on computerized attention tests (1).
Several other studies show an increase in happiness, improvements of youngsters’ self-control, reductions of attention problems, and overall reductions of ADHD symptoms (see table 1 blow (4)).
The studies show promising results of the effects of meditation and mindfulness training on children and youngsters. However, the studies have also found that the effect of meditation and mindfulness training disappears after a few weeks. The training should, therefore, be done regularly.
Since ADHD is genetic, many parents of children with ADHD also have ADHD themselves (though it may be undiagnosed)(2). In many of the studies, parents of the children with ADHD, were offered to participate in mindful parenting training, where the parents were taught to pay attention in the present moment, as well as observing their child in a non-judgmental manner and respond calmly, rather than react, to their child’s difficult behaviour (4).
"Mindful parenting is a form of mindfulness training and is defined as: ‘paying attention to your child and your parenting in a particular way: intentionally, here and now, and non-judgmentally'" (2).
The studies where parents participated in mindful training showed a significant reduction of parental stress and parental overreactivity* as well as decreasing parents' own inattention and hyperactivity (2).
The studies mentioned above have found preliminary results that could indicate that meditation and mindfulness training could improve mental health and feeling of happiness.
*”Due to the ADHD behavior of the child, parents can become less patient, pay more attention to disruptive behavior and act more impulsively. This is called ‘‘parental overreactivity’’”(2).
Van de Weijer-Bergsma, E., Formsma, A. R., de Bruin, E. I., & Bögels, S. M. (2012). The effectiveness of mindfulness training on behavioral problems and attentional functioning in adolescents with ADHD. Journal of child and family studies, 21(5), 775-787.
Van der Oord, S., Bögels, S. M., & Peijnenburg, D. (2012). The effectiveness of mindfulness training for children with ADHD and mindful parenting for their parents. Journal of child and family studies, 21(1), 139-147.
Grosswald, S. J., Stixrud, W. R., Travis, F., & Bateh, M. A. (2008). Use of the transcendental meditation technique to reduce symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by reducing stress and anxiety: an exploratory study. Current Issues in Education, 10.