A friend of mine recently confided in me that she’s struggled while watching her son cope with severe ADHD. “He’s so smart, but his energy and thoughts can overwhelm his classmates,” she said. “They’ve started to pick on him, and it’s so hard to watch because I know he wants to fit in.”
My friend’s struggles are common for parents of children with ADHD. “Children can start to feel as if there’s something wrong with them,” says ADHD expert Dr. Ed Hallowell. “It’s normal for parents to hear phrases such as, ‘It’s OK, Mom, I’m just dumb,’ when children with ADHD become frustrated with their inability to complete homework and stick to deadlines.”
Of course, no mother wants to hear these words come from the lips of her child, but parents don’t always know how to treat the disorder’s symptoms. Many parents, like my friend, are familiar with ADHD medications, but are hesitant to start treatment with drugs. “Studies have found that medications can be quite effective at reducing the severity of ADHD symptoms, but they’re not necessarily the right treatment choice for every child,” explained Hallowell. He suggested that concerned parents work with a therapist who will consider the strengths and needs of each child while creating a treatment plan.
Moreover, treatment plans ought to include a variety of interventions, including the practice of mindfulness. Hallowell reported that mindfulness — which is a state of active, open attention to the present — is quite helpful for managing and living with ADHD. “Mindfulness exercises allow children to observe that the mind is always having thoughts, but that they don’t need to get caught up in each of them,” he explains. For instance, a person can sit by the highway and watch cars go by, but he or she has a choice to either watch them pass by without a thought, or to grow invested in each vehicle and its backstory. There’s always a choice. Mindfulness teaches children with ADHD to exercise their choices, and stop intrusive thoughts by saying, “Thank you very much, but right now I’m finishing my project.” Interestingly, these meditative exercises are quite effective as a stand-alone ADHD intervention, or used in conjunction with medication.
“Remember, there are things that are quite positive about ADHD,” concludes Hallowell. “People with ADHD are creative, bright and intuitive.” Having ADHD, though, is like having a race car engine for a brain, with a faulty brake system. “Once people strengthen their brake system, they’re ready to win races — but those brakes really need some work first.”