Mindfulness Strategies for Kids with ADHD

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Mindfulness Strategies for Kids with ADHDIf you’ve been a caregiver for any amount of time, you may be familiar with the characteristics of a child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), whether it be inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, or a combination of both. The child may be impulsive, hyperactive, disorganized, easily overwhelmed, anxious or edgy, or moody. He or she may blow up easily or have a poor sense of time, trouble focusing, difficulty with transitions, inconsistent work habits, or sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, and textures. And while it may seem like children with these challenges are acting out or behaving badly, nothing could be further from the truth. They aren’t being bad; they just need help managing and coping.

Kids and teens diagnosed with ADHD will have individual treatment plans—which may involve medicine and/or other coping mechanisms established in partnership with their doctor—and the suggestions in this blog are not meant to replace these plans. However, everyone, particularly people with ADHD, can benefit from mindfulness—the practice of being aware of the present while calmly acknowledging and savoring the cognitive, affective, and behavioral sensations of each moment as it comes. In short, mindfulness means getting in touch with and paying attention to one’s senses in order to make sense of what’s happening right now.

Ask your students to design a Calming Corner in your room, and try these mindfulness suggestions to help soothe their heads, hearts, and hands.

So free, easy, and automatic that we don’t often give it much thought, breathing is an important part of becoming aware of the present and focusing on it, really getting in tune with each deep and intentional inhale and exhale. Teach the square breathing technique, which prompts us to breathe in deeply through our noses for four counts, hold our breath for four counts, exhale slowly through our mouths for four counts, and hold for another four counts. Doing four to six of these deep breaths is a great way to clear kids’ brains of the clutter and chaos that might keep those troublesome transitions from going smoothly.

For your little learners, belly breathing is a fun deep-breathing alternative. Show the Sesame Street video about it. Or ask students to lie flat on their backs and put a stuffed animal on their bellies so that, as they breathe, they can actually see their bellies rise and fall. This makes something intangible like breathing much more concrete. Practice this calming technique throughout the day until it becomes a part of students’ routine.

Bonus: Encourage students to practice deep breathing outside and to take advantage of the fresh air while they enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on their skin and soak up some vitamin D.

An optional addition to deep breathing is introducing a soothing scent to the ritual. Scented plug-ins or reed diffusers can put out calming aromas like lavender, ginger, eucalyptus, spearmint, peppermint, lemon, lime, orange, or cinnamon. Aromatherapy has long been used for its ability to reduce stress, lighten moods, improve clarity, and boost motivation, among other effects, or, try using essential oils to scent rice. Then hide river rocks in a bin of the scented rice; students find it very calming to run their fingers through the rice as they dig for the hidden treasures. Keeping fresh flowers in your room provides an additional opportunity to practice mindfulness with the natural scents of the carnation or the rose.

Bonus: Put scented Epsom salts in a zipper baggie to achieve the same scent-sational results.

There are so many calming colors. Which one is most soothing to you? More importantly, which one is comforting for your students with ADHD? Often, these students become overwhelmed because their brains go into overdrive, taking in information and trying to process it at a fast and furious pace. Being able to decrease that load, even for a little bit, can provide great relief.

Let’s say a student chooses blue. Provide something blue that the student can look at, meditate with, and focus on. Maybe it’s a weighted blanket or a calm-down bottle with blue-colored water, blue glitter, or blue jelly beads. Meditative coloring also provides therapeutic stress reduction and relaxation to help kids with ADHD stay in the moment. Provide the colors that are soothing to the student and encourage him or her not to hurry or rush, but rather to stay calm while coloring. This strategy will also connect with students’ hearts if they’re able to color a picture of something that makes them happy, like a rainbow, flowers, or animals.

Bonus: A kaleidoscope can provide an incredible burst of colorful mindfulness.

Another suggestion for effective mindfulness with students who have ADHD is to let them de-stress and refocus with instrumental music. Music artist Gary Lamb, for example, creates music that aligns with our natural biorhythms for optimal relaxation and joy. George Winston, Doug Smith, and David Lanz are excellent pianists whose music can soothe, comfort, and restore. Encourage your students to practice square or belly breathing as they listen to calming music, and you’ll have a feel-good recipe for mindfulness they won’t soon forget.

If you’re strapped for time and can’t lead a relaxation exercise, don’t stress. Give your students the opportunity to earn two minutes of computerized relaxation at the Do Nothing for Two Minutes website. Or schedule it proactively, just because.

Bonus: Students can make their own music with a Zenergy Chime.

When students with ADHD are struggling to focus or challenged with big, uncomfortable, and out-of-control emotions, try giving them something tangible to help stretch their self-awareness. Using the pointer and the middle fingers together, students can pat themselves up and down their arms and legs. Add a mantra like “Peace begins with me” to harness the power of the mini-massage.

Need another idea? Dare I say Rubik’s Cube or—gasp!—fidget spinners? These two handheld devices are wildly popular with the majority of my students, but especially with those children who are diagnosed with ADHD. The good thing is, students don’t need to play for very long to get tactile benefit from these gadgets, which heighten students’ sense of touch and help them get back in touch with the here and now. Chunk work into bite-sized morsels and set a kitchen timer for scheduled five-minute mindfulness breaks and watch the extra energy ooze out of students as they fidget with these spinners or attempt to solve that colorful cube.

Bonus: Get some yarn and scissors and let your students make and manipulate warm fuzzies.

For more mindfulness information, research, and integration ideas, check out my collection on Pinterest.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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