Help for Kids with ADHD: Meditation, Deep Breathing and Positive Imagery

Posted June 3, 2008 by

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Recently, meditation has been featured in Newsweek as a way to help kids to calm down and focus.

For years it was thought that each of us was born with a generous supply of brain cells, but that we were unable to produce additional cells or make changes in how they function. Fairly recently, neuroscientists discovered the presence of something called “neuroplasticity” which enables the brain to actually grow additional cells or modify the function of existing cells. Amazingly, cognitive exercises have been found to produce desired changes in not only how the brain works, but how it looks. What this means for parents is that you now have the ability to work with your child to help improve their ADHD symptoms. Combining simple relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing with positive visual imagery, helps the brain to improve or learn new skills. For instance, research shows that if a person mentally practices playing the piano, the brain actually records the imaginary trials the same as if they were real trials which leads to improvement when actually playing. So ADHD kids can “imagine” that they’re paying attention in class or able to handle teasing, and this can in turn change their behavior at school. Deep breathing exercises are also very effective for ADHD kids. Have them practice deep breathing and imagery to help them relax while imagining keeping under control in a situation where they would normally not be able to do so. Praise your ADHD child as he or she learns and practices this technique. Then, remind your child about the technique and encourage them to use it if they think they are going to get frustrated in a social setting. You might even give your child a tangible reward for the first few successes. Eventually this new habit will replace the old habit.

You and your ADHD child can use your own creativity and give this a try.


Dr Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities and is the creator of the Total Focus Program. Dr Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, which reaches 3 million parents each year. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

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  1. KungFuMom Report

    Oh and to get back to the main topic of meditation….It’s great for him when he is on his meds. He can focus and it helps alot to get to know himself better. But… needs to be at a time when he is already relaxed and already focused. If I try to have him meditiate or used deep breathing when he is already does not work at all in fact it just makes him worse. So i choose the “right time” for him to meditate. His Kung Fu class is WONDERFUL! It gets out all the sillyness and overactive behavior and they also do meditation!

  2. KungFuMom Report

    If my Son is off his meds everyone wants to be as far away from him as possible. He is almost 9. I have tried using different ways to help him realize his behavior before it happens, like word cues, sign language cues, using a “widget to fidget” and so on… the list is endless. He is so impulsive that he doesn’t even know when he is doing something inappropriate. For him to be successful at home in school and at his Kung Fu class HE NEEDS HIS MEDICATION!
    No one can even have a conversation with him with out it. I have had himvisit a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist with meds and without meds and they both suggested keeping the meds flowing in his veins every day until maybe he gets older and then try to cut back slowly. So HURRAY for MEDS!
    Without them I am afraid we would all be driven crazy!

  3. Susan Trumblay Report

    In reference to “steven1” – He appears to have a lot of anger and frustration with his world. And I understand why.
    However, he needs to take a backup step or two, take a deep breath and read what he wrote. Using run-on sentences filled with anger, misspelled and incorrect words, as well as an abundance of redundant verbage, only make me wonder if he is speaking about himself instead of (or as well as) his son.
    Overall, I have to agree that (more simply put), the vast majority of children who are put on ADD and/or ADHD meds should not have been. I also agree that it is more of a money maker for the pharmaceutical companies, than a genuine concern for the childern.
    However . . . having been the route of ADHD and Bipolar on a birth child who is now age 40, and now an adopted child who is only 6 1/2, I have to say – not much has changed in 40 years!!
    I recently weaned my little girl off the ADHD drugs, and we now use WATER THERAPY and it works quite well. She has learned to put a name on how she feels when she gets angry or frustrated, and that makes it easier to realize that when she gets that “tangled up feeling” she needs to get her hands in some warm water and play in it for a few minutes to avoid or diminish the behaviour that may follow and get her into trouble.
    I had to make her realize that SHE is responsible for her actions, and SHE must accept the consequences that follow her choices. No crutches, no excuses, and no cop-outs! SHE makes the right choice, SHE reaps the rewards; SHE make the wrong choice, SHE suffers the consequences!
    Life is not perfect at this point, nor is it ever in THIS world, but life IS quite pleasant, now, and we thank GOD that we gave up the medication for ADHD, and use the NATURAL resources.
    We will begin to introduce the positive imaging idea today, I am certain that it too, will make things even better. We are blessed that we have the freedom to come here to share our thoughts and ideas.

  4. ChristineJ Report

    I am completely disgusted with the public school system when it comes to children with ADD or ADHD. My son has been diagnosed with ADHA at a very early age and while we have tried multiple medications in the past I wasn’t accepting the so called side effects of not eating, not sleeping, and being a zombie while on it. That and he started using it as a cruch when it would wear off. He would make excuses that he couldn’t control this or or that because his med’s weren’t working. Typical scapegoat and not taking responsibility for his own actions. So, this past school year (5th grade) we decided not to give him is meds and work through it. He pitched a fit, and the school pitched an even bigger fit about it, but I stood my ground and I am happier, my family is happier, and especially my son is happier because of it. He passed the end of grade testing and was promoted to 6th grade for next year (mysteriously after failing the entire year of class and homework). That tells me what I expected all along…the school is just pushing him through so they don’t have to deal with it. Or he is so gifted and bored that he is seriously messing with all of us!! He is neither a danger to himself or anyone else and isn’t violent. He just can’t stay focused on any tasks at hand and has temper tantrums. Being a better parent on my part and staying on top of him or recognizing his limits I had to redirect his thinking and teach him to monitor his ‘reactors’ when he gets frustrated. By ‘reactors’ I mean those little tiny simple clues that his body gives him before the tantrums happen….increase heartrate, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, etc. Lucky for me, my daughter was dianosed with Bipolar Disorder when she was in the second grade and we spent thousands of hours in therapy learning all this. Miraclously (sp?), she grew out of ALL of it by the 7th grade and is now a happy teenager. She volunteers, goes to church, is involved in sports heavily, and gets really upset with HERSELF if her grades are below B’s. I count my blessings everyday for both my children and the progress they have made over the years.

  5. Julie Campos Report

    What is most mind numbing is that our education system does not recognize the effects ADHD can have on a childs social abilities. It is most unfortunate that schools have only the academics in mind to meet the requirements of “testing”. The whole child must be educated. Therefore, things like singing, yoga, and other activities that cause the mind to dance into success would be great additions to academia.

  6. Marion Davis Report

    I am always deeply concerned when someone goes to extremes in condemning using medication to manage a medical condition as stevenl did in his communication. The passion in his statements though, takes me back to a time in my life when I was a young mother with an ADD child so I would like to share some thoughts with you about ADD treatment from my perspective now having the advantage of time and experience.

    To give you a little background, my husband and I are parents of four adult children, two of whom have been diagnosed as ADD. One was diagnosed about 1980 as a 7 year old child (he is not on medication) and the other recently as an adult and who is on medication. In addition, I was also recently diagnosed as ADD and am on medication. (On a personal note, I find a considerable difference in my thoughts and behaviors since I have begun taking medication and the changes have been positive. Counseling and education have also made a big difference.)

    All four of our children are now married with children. We have 13 grandchildren ranging from 12 years old to 2 years old and 2 of whom have been “officially” diagnosed as ADD and are on medication. I suspect that at least 2 more will be as they get older. None of these are children of the first diagnosed child.

    When the first child was diagnosed he was put on ridelin. (Is that spelled correctly?) I believe it was the only medication available at the time. His behavior slowed down but I was upset with the side effects so my husband and I decided not to continue that line of treatment. We modified our family’s diet (basic stuff, no artificial colors or flavors, etc.) and worked on behavior modification with the help of a therapist. This was effective for some parts of his behavior.

    Because I focused on the negative effects of that one medication, I didn’t consider the possibility that later others might be developed that would be more effective and less problematic. I too was a vocal advocate that good parenting and diet and behavior modification were the real answer. I also ignored the other resources and possible tools that came along that he (and all of us) would have benefited from.

    As I look back now, with the knowledge and experience I have gained, I have come to realize that today, medication with counseling and education, diet, and behavior modification are all part of the real answer because ADD is so complex. These are all tools that each parent has available to them. We need moderation in how we manage these tools to develop a solution for our child and must be based on our own set of conditions.

    Here I would offer one piece of advice, find an psychiatrist (MD) who specializes in ADD and work with them. There are Primary Care Physicians who feel they can treat ADD patients but I have found while they mean well they (generally) do not have the knowledge to provide the counseling and education segment that is a major component of learning how to manage ADD including balancing the medications. Attached is a link to an excellent on- line article about this issue of medication vs therapy vs other ways of dealing with ADD.
    (To the editor: I hope this is OK, I am new to this type of communication system.)

    Stevenl, I do not know what your experiences have been. I hope you will not let them blind you as I was to the many tools and assistance that are now available to parents with ADD children and I hope you will seek balance in helping your child learn how deal with his challenge. I wish you well.

  7. stevenl Report

    I am glad to see this information presented without commercial or corporate exploitation and intrusion into decent human communication.
    Our children are our treaures in which lies a variety of futures. If we drug them and debilitate their cognitive abilities, and if we eliminate their prescience and the protective “razor sharp” awareness that helps them see and deal with the exploitive, treacherous and dangerous realities humans always face, we can easily face doom.
    Sometimes the greatest dangers are from humans themselves.
    I personally know now that much danger has been presented to civilization in the two edged sword of drugs for children by the huge moneys that were found to be available in marketing chemical compounds in a “wrapper of guilt” and package of “save your child” marketing that promised to “set your child ahead” and “save your child from his or her childhood behavior” that promised and gave parents “peace of mind” that things will be OK and that their child is viewed with the approval of “normalcy” by other parents, teachers and even school districts that had become financially enhanced through programs that were built in business/educational/government concerted efforts that offered them each something attainable through such a program. The problem is that really, the children paid with their cotgnitive abilites for all of the benefits of wealth and finances these organizations and corporations found in this practice.
    I witnessed this in my own son. My son was nearly destroyed by a complete substitution of a devotion to simple decent loving parenting for “quiet boy drugs”.
    It is my opinion that my son was nearly driven to mental failures and confusions by these subatances and now after abandoning these avenues is reclaining his physical well being and health, his cognitive abilites in very decent grades and is even aware huimself that he lost alot in his drug induced cognitive diminishment.
    I am now disillusioned to a near sick feeling that chemicals are rampantly found to be substituting for decent parenting, found to be substituting for decent teaching, found to be substituting for fathers in ruined fatherless home lives, found to be supressing a natural reaction to flawed educational approaches, gfound to be supporting beaurocraticly hobbled school programs by blaming it on the children, found to be marketted extensively as a financially rewarding solution for demolished and alienated youth statistics etc., so rewarding in fact that truly evil and exploitive executives kmight knowingly include financial returns in consideration about whether or not to market a chemical in the name of a childs health.
    That of course is another story that is being researched and watched closely in other forums.
    So as I conlude my two cents worth here, yes, positive imagery can and will help thinking and emotions and it will also be found to cause a little parent child time together in peace, the way it should be.
    Knowing human behavior will help children more in the long run that taking chemicals. Laws governing people and what people want and do are two different things. Real love spots the fakes and sorts this out.
    I believe a revolution in realization that our children need acceptance, love, peace, gender nuetral support, access to both decent parents if they actually have two decent parents (who else sees a little of themselves in that child like a parent?), decent honest non political behavioral understanding and valuation as human beings to be there best and not be seen, needed or used as icons each as a “chemical imbalance tragedies” in need of a chemical companies exorbatently high priced “its in the pill” repair services generated by slickly marketed “high science” computer driven corporation to an emotionally vulnerable audience such as parents who naturally want the best for their children and are intimidated and commercially driven to give their children chemicals in place of human compassion and care.
    Yes humans thrive and heal and improve and grow and love and participate and enjoy their existence and become great neighbors and citizens when they are touched by kindness and care, respect and comfort. It does change their neural network. We all used to know this when we used to discuss love rather than drugs as an important resolving phenomenal part of life. That is why we discussed love as an important part of life, it makes good calm feelings. It is comfort and acceptance.
    It brings calm. Please don’t lose sight of this. It produces the very solution the pharmaceuticals offer in naturally generated hormones occurring where their is peace, acceptance, security, understanding, communication, kindness etc. Don’t expect to give all that to your children in pills….. its in what the perceive their world to be… them visualize some acceptance and success…even if you have to strain to do that yourself.
    What happened to our reality that we offer love and care to each other because it brings out the best in human beings?
    This subject is hugely relevant. Their are hugely varying circumstances involved in this discussion of security and learning, imagery and the seratonin like hormones of success and hope.
    Do you want your child to have just the hormones of a birthday party or a birthday party?
    Do you want your child to have a few fleeting hormones found in life with an accepting kind parent or do you want them to have a kind accepting parent?
    Do you want your child to be able to have feelings of enjoying life for a few hours when they take a precipitating chemical or do you want your child to enjoy life?
    If you cannot provide the real things, work at it in hope and dedication, don’t fake it……

  8. Marianna Report

    I have seen this work with my son who has ADHD. Before bed, we visualize what’s going to happen at school the next day with a boy who’s been picking on him, and how Jarrett will react. I was amazed this week when he actually shut the bully down and walked away.



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