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Mindfulness benefits kids with ADHD, and their families


Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and other mindfulness activities can help children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but it’s not just the kids who benefit.

When families of children with ADHD complete a mindfulness program together, a new study suggests, children and parents can profit, with potential boosts to self-control, self-compassion, and psychological symptoms.

The findings do not suggest children should ditch medication in favor of focusing on the present moment. Instead, the study adds to growing evidence that mindfulness can be a helpful tool along with other strategies for children and adults with ADHD, said John Mitchell, PhD, a psychologist at Duke University, Durham, N.C., who was not involved with the new study. Mindfulness might help families ease stress and improve quality of life.

“We talk about ADHD because one person has that diagnosis, but we don’t live in bubbles,” he said. “We’re all interconnected and impact one another. And having treatments that acknowledge that and measuring that in the scientific literature is pretty important.”

Mindfulness training, which has its roots in Eastern traditions, generally aims to teach people how to be present in the moment and let go of judgment. Over the last couple of decades, researchers working on depression and other conditions have gathered evidence that practicing mindfulness can help in a variety of ways, including with the self-regulation of attention and emotions. It didn’t take long for those findings to draw interest from researchers who study ADHD, Dr. Mitchell said.

Research on mindfulness for ADHD started with adults, and results have been encouraging, Dr. Mitchell said. People who complete a mindfulness program tend to show some improvement in focus, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, studies show. In one small pilot study, Dr. Mitchell and colleagues reported improvements in symptoms and executive function in adults with ADHD.

Studies with children have lagged behind, but recent work has been promising. When looking at data from a number of studies, researchers have found small reductions in inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in young people with ADHD. Several randomized, controlled trials have also shown a reduction in symptoms as rated by parents and teachers.

Greater understanding, acceptance

In related research, there was a noticed reduction in stress among parents who get mindfulness training that teaches them to listen with their full attention, accept and develop compassion for themselves and their children, and regulate themselves within the relationship with their kids.

Still, first-line treatment for children with ADHD usually includes a combination of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and education, even though those strategies don’t always work well for everyone, says Corina Greven, PhD, a psychologist at Radboud (the Netherlands) University Medical Centre and Karakter Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Despite suggestive results, the data on mindfulness remains murky, in part because early studies that looked at mindfulness training for children with ADHD have been small. Few trials of mindfulness treatment for ADHD, Dr. Greven said, have included parents.

To fill in some of the gaps, Dr. Greven and colleagues conducted a trial with 103 families who had a child with ADHD between ages 8 and 16. Half of the families were randomly assigned simply to continue care as usual, which included medication for most.

The other half continued their usual care and also took part in a program called MYMind, which used mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children and mindful parenting training for parents.

Families attended 90-minute group sessions once a week for 8 weeks, with an extra session 2 months later. The mindfulness group also completed homework every day that took about 30-45 minutes for parents and 15 minutes for children. Homework included workbooks and guided meditations.

In the short term, the team reported, children who received the mindfulness intervention showed small improvements in ADHD symptoms, anxiety, autistic symptoms, and problems falling asleep. One-third children who received mindfulness training improved on measures of self-control, Dr. Greven added, compared with just 1 in 10 who got only their usual care.

Benefits were larger and longer-lasting for parents. Compared with parents who didn’t get mindfulness training, those assigned to the mindfulness group improved in self-control, self-compassion, depression, anxiety, stress, well-being, and their own ADHD symptoms. Given a large genetic component to the disorder, it is common for parents of children with ADHD to have a diagnosis or ADHD symptoms as well. In addition, Dr. Greven said, families who completed the mindfulness-based intervention reported improvements in their relationships as well as acceptance of ADHD.


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