Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mindfulness Practices for ADD/ADHD

(Guest Post by Child's Mind author Dr. Christopher Willard)

One of the more common questions I’m asked by parents and teachers is whether meditation and mindfulness can help kids with ADD/ADHD. The answer, according to scientific research and according to parents, teachers, and kids is a resounding yes!

So what exactly is ADD? It is an inability to continually maintain and direct mental focus. Often people describe ADD/ADHD as an inability to focus, but it can be more helpful to think of it as a brain type that focuses on too much- rather than just paying attention to the teacher, an ADD child focuses on the teacher, on the kid next to him, on the window outside, and in his or her itchy leg and reacting to all of these, seemingly all at once. This is not actually such a bad thing in certain circumstances, but it’s a not always the easiest brain type to have for our education system.

One place it get hard for kids with ADD/ADHD is settling down to start their schoolwork or homework. Starting up, switching tasks and getting into gear is often more difficult for kids with ADD and other “executive functioning” issues than other kids. This is a time where some mindful grounding exercises can really help. They works as mental grease that makes getting into gear and changing gears a lot smoother than without. I recommend these for transition times, (recess to classroom, dinnertime to study time, outdoor time to indoor time), as well as a bridge to starting up with homework or chores. I call this practice “Counting to Your Senses” and it is inspired by Jon Kabat-Zinn and other teachers. This is a simple mindfulness practice that you can adapt to what you and your kids enjoy most. It also is not just for kids- I have a lot of friends who do these exercises before they start writing, or when they walk into an unfamiliar or anxious situation.

Counting to Your Senses:

This is a much more interesting version of counting to five or ten to calm and settle down. The idea is to become more aware of our surroundings and our bodies, calm our busy and scattered minds and settle into the task or setting. Kids can do this on their own, but its a lot more fun to do together as a family, classroom or group.

Sitting comfortably but upright in the workspace, whether its at the kitchen table or classroom desk, take just a moment to bring your attention to your breath, bringing it down to your toes and feeling it in your belly. Now take a moment to bring your attention to your ears, and just start counting whatever sounds start to enter your awareness through your hearing. Try either five or ten depending on how much practice you have... airplanes overhead, cars outside, breathing next to you, birds chirping, water rushing through a pipe, footsteps or voices outside... it is amazing how many things are there when we start to pay attention. But the hard part is not getting caught up in the story of whats happening with the sound- noticing the airplane, but staying out of it, being aware of the footsteps, but not wondering who they belong to or where they are going, just bringing our minds back to the next sound. With practice, start listening to the sounds and the spaces between the sounds- is there ever really any quiet? You can do this practice for seconds, minutes or hours, and it will help you settle and focus, but even just five or ten sounds can make a big difference.

A second part you can add on or do instead is focusing in your body and what sensations you feel, again counting to five or ten. Noticing the sensation of your socks on your feet, an itch on your arm, the air on your face, and deeper down the pulse of your heart, the vibrations of your stomach. Without getting carried away by the stories that tempt you, just counting to five or ten sensations, or practicing for a minute or two.

Notice your level of focus now, and start in on your work. If you feel distracted or frustrated, pull your mind back to the sounds or sensations, and from there back into your work.

Dr. Christopher Willard, Psy. D
Dr. Willard is a licensed psychologist and educational consultant. He is most recently the author of "Child's Mind," a book about teaching meditation to children and teens. He lives and works in Cambridge, MA.


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