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Mindfulness Can Help Kids with ADHD

Research shows that mindfulness can calm the Monkey Mind.

Recently a writer contacted me for input to a magazine article about the benefits of mindfulness for children diagnosed with ADHD. In two recent Psychology Today posts, I mention mindfulness as one no-risk non-drug tool to help children with hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness..

In my practice, I have found that mindfulness, as a supplement to family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, can be helpful for children and teens with ADHD and anxiety. Mindfulness alone does not resolve all the problems, but incorporating mindfulness with other techniques can lead to positive results.

What I have found in my practice is validated by growing body of research. Studies have shown that teaching children mindfulness can relieve their stress, improve their ability to pay attention, help them calm down, and lead them to make better decisions. Mindfulness helps children to regulate their emotions and improves their attention span and ability to focus.

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Source: Pixabay: public domain

Meditation, or its modern handle “mindfulness,” is a practice used from ancient times to soothe anxiety and calm the mind’s restless tendency to jump around from one thing to another—often called the Monkey Mind.

The Monkey Mind—a word coined by the Buddha—is a mind that seems to be filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, and carrying on. Both adults and children experience the Monkey Mind, so it is helpful to find out what is going on in our brains and how mindfulness helps from a physiological perspective.

Brain research indicates that the tendency for the mind to jump around like a monkey comes from the part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is the seat of emotions, especially strong emotions such as fear or anxiety. When children are in a state of Monkey Mind, it is the amygdala part of their brains that is activated. This can make paying attention and focusing on learning difficult. For learning to take place, different parts of the brain must be activated. The hippocampus is critical to learning and memory and regulates the amygdala. The third part is the prefrontal cortex which is associated with maturity. It regulates emotions and behaviors and helps us make good decisions.

Research shows that when a child is instructed in meditation or mindfulness, his or her amygdala is less activated and the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are more in control. This helps the child to regulate to keep his mind in his body and focus on what is in front of him at the present moment. Because children’s brains are plastic or malleable, even 10 minutes a day of mindfulness—5 minutes in the morning and in the evening—can calm their Monkey Minds by activating higher brain functions.

To help kids practice mindfulness, it’s best if parents have a meditation practice of their own. I suggest that parents practice yoga or simple meditation techniques like focusing on their breathing. For children, playing sounds from nature—the chirping of birds, or the sounds of rain or waves—can soothe their Monkey Mind. Taking a child on nature walks and being attentive to the sounds of woodpeckers or frogs keeps the mind in the present moment.

One 10-year-old boy in my practice discovered his own way to calm his Monkey Mind and solve his insomnia. He found a YouTube recording of waves, and now plays it when he is going off to sleep. A 9-year-old girl found that writing a story about what she is feeling at the moment soothes her anxiety. Children have great imaginations, and if parents give them a little guidance, they can find their own ways of self-meditating.


Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Evans, K. C., Hoge, E. A., Dusek, J. A., Morgan, L., … Lazar, S. W. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(1), 11–17.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52-66.

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