ADHD children often struggle with anxiety, which interferes with their ability to focus in all kinds of situations. Teaching your child relaxation techniques can go a long way to improving their focus inside and outside the classroom.
A Day in the Life of a Family with an ADHD Child
If you, like me, have a child with ADHD then you know the daily struggles children with this condition face. A lot of days, it is paramount to being on a roller coaster that never ends. Dealing with the lack of organization is one thing, but the impulse control and anxiety issues can drive a child to tears, let alone a parent trying to help them cope. Despite medication, it wasn't working for our familiy. We had to find some strategies to improve his focus during the day, which in turn reduced everyone's stress in the evening. Teaching my child relaxation techniques proved a life saver for our entire family.
Meditation is a century old practice most of us associate with Buddhist monks. However, I learned from research and experience that meditation has significant benefits for children with ADHD. Children with ADHD not only improve their focus, but can improve their family relationships, increase their self-esteem, and in half of the cases reduce or eliminate their dependence on medication to control their symptoms.
You wouldn't think a child with ADHD could learn to mediate, but it is possible. Meditation is really about just pausing and being aware of their body and their breathing. There are different approaches to meditation I used with my child, depending on where we were when the need for it came on. For example, sometimes if she had to sit somewhere for a long period of time at a doctor's office or in class, we would use concentration meditation where she picked an object and focused keeping her mind on that object. When she was younger, we would bring an object with us that you could place on the floor or across a room. As she got older, she would just pick an object like a photograph on a wall to use.
Another type of meditation that worked well both at home or school was walking meditation. In this version, you just walk (my child used to walk around the playground at recess) and all you focus on is breathing in and out, and in and out. It was helpful at school because she was moving and burning off energy while at the same time it helped her regain her focus before the next class.
Relaxing the Body
I know for my ADHD child, getting them to physically relax their body was a challenge. When they were younger, it meant a long battle at nap time if we ever took naps at all. Later in life, it meant staying up late at night because she couldn't unwind and fall asleep. This went on for years until I realized that it wasn't willfulness that kept her awake, it was that she simply couldn't physically relax and fall asleep. When she couldn't sleep, she couldn't focus in class.
So we started talking about how her body felt, such as were her muscles tight or uncomfortable. Giving those feelings a name helped her communicate what she was feeling, so we could manage it better. When the tense muscles came and it was time to sleep, we would pull the blinds and blackout curtains in her room. She would lay in her bed and me on the floor, and I would walk her through how to relax. For example, having the child start by just focusing on their legs and mindfully breathing and thinking relaxed her. Then you move onto other parts of the body until after a few times she would relax very quickly. When she wasn't so tired from lack of sleep, she had a much easier time focusing in class.
When she got older, we started working with her on a more challenging version of this exercise: yoga. The practice of yoga for ADHD children was very helpful in helping her learn to control her body and her mind. My local YMCA had a yoga class for children, where she had a chance to learn the basic moves such as mountain or child's pose, which are excellent for helping the body relax and quiet the mind and focus. Sometimes if she were feeling stressed during the day, she would go to the restroom or nurses office where she could take a few minutes in mountain pose to prepare her mind for a test or just deal with her feelings of being anxious. It helped her find ways to focus during school. Then, when she came home, she could do her yoga DVD for a while before she tried to tackle the homework.
Creating a Relaxation Space
The last relaxation technique that helped my daughter with ADHD focus was helping her create a relaxation space at home free of distraction. Often when ADHD children come home and need to finish homework, there are two battles. First, they are still wound up from the events of the day. Second, their medication might be winding down too. So we found setting up a quiet relaxation space was a helpful way to transition from the day, before we moved into family and homework time.
In our case, we used her walk-in closet as a relaxation space. However, a bedroom would work as well. First, it was quiet and away from the noise of everyone else in the house. That is an important part of creating that space because it is hard for an ADHD child to relax in a room full of noise. Second, it needed to be electronics free. In our house, everyone has to drop their devices in cubbies by the door. Phones, laptops, Chromebooks, anything with an on and off switch. If you need to work on them, you are designated to the kitchen and office. When you are done, your device goes back to the cubby. This is important when you have an ADHD child in the house because the buzz of notifications can be a big distraction at homework time.
We put black out curtains on the wall, a soothing paint scheme, and comfy pillows. No music or anything was allowed in the space. When we came home, she was allowed to retreat for thirty minutes. She could meditate, do yoga, or just mull over her day. But it was a dedicated quiet time. When she emerged, she could focus better on her schoolwork or even whatever activities were planned for the evening. At the beginning, she did not appreciate a technology-free zone, but when she saw the rewards she happily embraced it. Everyone got along much better after that brief time in her relaxation zone.