Medication or Meditation for treatment of your child’s ADHD?

Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common developmental disorders experienced in children. ADHD is a condition that makes it unusually difficult for children to focus and pay attention, sit still, and control impulsive behavior. ADHD can be experienced as predominately one or the other- inattentiveness or hyperactivity/impulsivity. Most children with ADHD however, experience symptoms as a combination of both areas.

Research has shown that both medical and behavioral interventions prove to be an effective treatment for ADHD and help to reduce your child’s symptoms. Determining the best course of treatment however, can be tricky in terms of weighing out the pros and cons of medication use and choosing the right therapist for your child for behavioral interventions. Even with suitable pharmacological interventions, many parents are understandably hesitant and don’t like the idea of putting their young child on medications that may come with adverse side effects. In addition, navigating the various medication options available for safe and effective treatment can feel overwhelming. Your child’s pediatrician can assist you in weighing out the benefits versus the risks for these, and as a parent, arming yourself with information is empowering and critical.

Whether you and your child’s pediatrician decide to treat your child’s ADHD symptoms with medications or not, there are other more natural and effective treatment options that when used in combination can yield the best outcomes for your child’s success. Behavioral interventions and strategies can also be used as the primary treatment of your child’s symptoms if you decide not to use medication, and working with a mental health professional who specializes in this area can be just as effective in terms of treatment and symptom mitigation. Some particular strategies that work extremely well for children with ADHD are behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and mindfulness techniques such as relaxation strategies and meditation.

Okay, I know you are probably thinking, “How on Earth am I supposed to get my inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive kid to sit still long enough to meditate? If they were capable of sitting still or focusing, I wouldn’t be searching the internet for help with ADHD!” Fair enough. But allow me to explain.

Your Child’s Brain on ADHD

All people have thoughts and impulses that may not be that rational. You might feel like ramming your car into the car that just took your parking spot, for instance. Or, you might want to tell your boss what you really think sometimes when upset at work. Luckily, most of us have a well functioning pre-frontal cortex that keeps us in check and stops us from doing dangerous or unlawful impulsive behavior.

Your child’s pre-frontal cortex is not yet fully developed. In fact, the area in our brains for judgment and reasoning does not fully develop until about the age of 25. (You probably know some people over the age of 25 where even this is questionable!)  A child struggling with ADHD has a pre-frontal cortex that in addition to still developing, is significantly impaired, therefore, he or she cannot put the brakes on these impulses. An impulse makes itself known and before your child even knows what’s going on, they are acting on it. It happens fast!

Meditation Empowers Children with ADHD

What children with ADHD need that will ‘calm them down’ or ‘help them focus’ is to become aware of their own thoughts. By recognizing that s/he is not his or her thoughts but an individual simply having thoughts, your child becomes empowered to self-regulate and make better choices. They can learn that these thoughts are not facts and slow down the process to allow time for discernment and judgment.

Studies are now showing that mindful meditation can help children with ADHD:

  • Reduce their feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Reduce impulsive behavior
  • Improve concentration
  • Reduce hyperactivity
  • Improve self-esteem

Helping Your Child Get Started

The best way to get your child interested in the practice of meditation is to practice it yourself. Do some research and perhaps take a few classes yourself so you fully understand what is involved. If financial constraints are a concern to paying for classes, there are many free resources online or on YouTube that can get you started. Incorporating mindfulness as a lifestyle and a family practice can help your child begin to slow their brains down and gain better control over their thoughts and impulses. Mindfulness as a lifestyle design can also set your child up for an adult life filled with empowerment and living intentionally; recognizing that gaining control over your mind (i.e. thoughts and outlook) directly correlates to gaining control over your choices and overall well-being. The more you practice this, the more you will model this for your children. Trust me, even with difficulty paying attention, they are watching you and how you manage your impulses.

To get started on this, you’ll want to create a space in your home that is just for meditation. Choose a location where there will be no interruptions and that encourages a sense of calmness. You can make this appealing by setting aside a separate room, or even a small corner in your home that is comfortable and quiet. Be creative! Add pillows, music, bean bag chairs, or whatever you want to make it a “time out” space that your child will actually want to use. Your child volunteering for time outs….what???? It is possible.

Be sure to start your child out nice and slow. The Chopra Center suggests one minute of meditation for every year of your child’s age. All kids are different so you may need to adjust for your child. Your 10 year old, for example, may only be able to start off doing 5 minutes. That’s fine, don’t push it – use the age suggestion as a starting point and your understanding of your child’s personality and needs as your guidepost. You can gradually add on more time as you and your child practice and get better at it.

Try to set aside any expectations you may have at the beginning. Most adults with fully-functioning pre-frontal cortexes have a very hard time with meditation at first, so chances are your child will as well. Do not become frustrated and yell at your child to “stop fidgeting.” This will only discourage both of you. If your child has difficulty sitting still, you can even incorporate mindful body movement, such as Tai Chi or Qigong to help them learn purposeful ways to channel their physical energy. (This is also a way to work in some physical exercise without them even knowing it!)

Finally, if they need encouragement to get started, feel free to use positive rewards. Allow them to choose what movie the family will watch or which board game you will play on the weekend. You can also allow them to help select calming music they like or reward them with their own ‘special’ meditation pillow to use as they learn the practice. Get creative and make it something to look forward to. You can use it as a special activity they get to do with you or family bonding time. Be sure to praise them as they are able to add more minutes into their routine and help them to acknowledge and reflect on their growth. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it, so switch things up to keep it engaging and something your child will come to view as an important self-care practice.

Will getting your child to meditate be easy? You’ll probably have an easier time putting a corset on a pig. However, it’s important to keep at it because eventually you will see some wonderful changes in your child. More importantly, they will begin to see changes in themselves which can positively impact on their self-esteem as they are able to better manage their ADHD symptoms. Encouraging your child to make purposeful, intentional choices to help self-regulate their emotions, gain clarity and increase focus will only yield beneficial outcomes for them and will teach them effective coping strategies not only for their ADHD symptoms, but in ways they can apply to many situations throughout their childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.

If your child is struggling with ADHD and you would like support in learning behavioral interventions including mindfulness and meditation to help manage their symptoms, please contact my office. I would be happy to help! Whether you choose to use medications to treat your child’s ADHD or not, working with a therapist can significantly help both you and your child to manage and reduce their symptoms and set them up for success. I’d be happy to speak with you more about all of the treatment options available and support you in finding the right fit for your child’s specific needs.



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