Mindfulness & ADHD: Reducing symptoms in parents and children
Dr Shelley Hyman
Currently, evidence-based treatments for ADHD include medication, which only has short-term effects, and behavioural therapies, with the most common involving behavioural parent training, but is not very effective if parents themselves have ADHD. There has been some emerging evidence that mindfulness training in children with ADHD and their parents can reduce inattention and hyperactivity symptoms that are present in both the children and their parents themselves.
Mindfulness training aims to focus one’s awareness to the present moment by paying attention on purpose and non-judgmentally. Essentially, it helps children (and adults) with ADHD to deal with stress by creating a pause between the stimulus or situation and their reaction to it, so situations can be viewed objectively and rationally rather than act impulsively.
van der Oord and colleagues (2012) had 22 children (8-12 years old) with ADHD and their parent with ADHD attending a mindful child training program and a mindful parenting program, respectively, compared to a wait list control group.
The programs involved 90 minute group sessions for 8 weeks. The programs were adapted versions of the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training programs extensively catered towards parents and children with ADHD and were run by experienced and trained cognitive-behaviour therapists.
Parents learnt how to 1) be wholly focused in the here and now with their child with a non-judgemental mindset; 2) take care of themselves; 3) accept their child’s difficulties; 4) strategies in responding to, rather than reacting to, their child’s difficult behaviours; and 5) dealing with parenting stress. On the other hand, children learnt to also focus and have full awareness of the here and now, through mindfulness exercises and homework, and applying them to difficult situations. Questionnaires regarding parenting stress, parenting style, ADHD symptoms in both the children and parents completed by parents, teachers, and the children themselves, were used to determine the results.
It was found that after the 8 weeks, there was a decrease in inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity in the children, as rated by their parents, and the parents themselves. Parental stress and overactivity in parenting style also had been reduced. The reductions in symptoms were maintained even 8 weeks after the program ceased in a follow-up test. No effects at all were found for the waitlist group.
However, it should be kept in mind that this was a pilot study and that there were a few issues with the study itself. Parents’ ratings of their children’s symptoms could have been biased and reported as so because they expected a reduction in symptoms from the program. Also, it is uncertain whether it was due to the parent mindfulness training, the child mindfulness training or the combination of both that contributed to the effectiveness in reducing symptoms.
Future research should try to find substantial evidence for mindfulness training and its alleviation of ADHD symptoms in other populations and perhaps incorporate it into school curricula and other educational and business settings.
All in all, this piece of research demonstrates the tremendous potential of mindfulness training in improving ADHD symptoms in both parents and children.
- 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.