ADHD & Mindfulness
Exercise Good Judgment
For parents, mindfulness offers a way to take care of yourself and provide your children with a valuable tool at the same time. The following excerpt from Dr. Mark Bertin’s new book, “The Family ADHD Solution,” provides a great introduction to this great concept.
– The ImpactADHD Team
Introduction to this excerpt, by Dr. Mark Bertin: Mindfulness can be defined as paying full attention to our experience, as it happens, with compassion and clarity. It has been shown to decrease stress and reactivity, and to be a useful tool for breaking seemingly entrenched patterns in our lives. Studies have shown benefits for everything from psoriasis to arthritis, chronic pain to depression. While mindfulness doesn’t fix anything in and of itself, it offers practical skills we can use throughout our lives. Anyone can practice mindfulness. A few minutes a day trains our mind to focus where we want more often, and spend less time lost in rumination, fear, fantasy or anywhere else our thoughts wander. For attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the practice of mindfulness supports the growth of wisdom and resilience in addressing this complex medical condition, as well as the possibility of improved attention and executive functioning.
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“I’m hardly even telling anyone we started medication. There’s all this chatter when people do. They don’t even think about what’s it’s been like for us – or for our son Alan. My husband isn’t constantly correcting him anymore. They sit and play a whole game together. Alan has this chart at school, red lights for bad behavior, green for good. All of a sudden he’s getting green every day. He’s talking about it all the time. He’s playing longer with kids. And still, there’s so much judgment about using medication – like we couldn’t deal, or we’re trying some kind of band-aid.”
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Judgment is so much part of life when you have a child with ADHD. Someone feels that your child should not be acting as he is, that his behavior is inappropriate and you are responsible. A magazine article or a relative suggest that ADHD comes from parenting, and you feel it is directed entirely at you. You choose medication, and feel judgment from people who disagree. You choose not to use medication – and someone criticizes your choice.
Returning to the basic definition, mindfulness is often defined as a being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment without judgment. Without judgment means without the reflexive, often reactive categorization of our lives into good, bad, and neutral; this last group we often dismiss as not worth a moment’s thought. Being nonjudgmental does not mean meekly accepting the status quo. When something needs addressing, we still do what we need to protect ourselves and make hard choices to solve problems.
There is a difference between sitting in traffic stewing about bad luck, freaking out about being late for an appointment, or instead idling in traffic trying to figure out another driving route. Anger arises – there shouldn’t be traffic right now, I shouldn’t have driven this way – but there is, and you did. There’s nothing else to be done. All that angst and frustration inside, and the traffic outside hasn’t budged.
We can strive to tell the difference between clear thoughts – I need to find another way to work; I need to call ahead and let people know I’ll be late’ – and judgment – ‘why didn’t I leave earlier, why can’t they just get this traffic jam cleared, they must be completely incompetent. Practically, you might instead resolve, once you calmed down, not to follow the same route again.
Mindfulness therefore means separating the terms ‘judgment’ and ‘discernment.’ Judgment mindlessly categorizes experience, and often leads us to wrestle with what is not in our control. Discernment is recognizing what we can and should change, and what we cannot, much like the traditional serenity prayer: To accept what we cannot change, to change what we must, and to find the wisdom to tell the difference.