Attention Problems and Mindfulness: Examining a School Counseling Group Intervention With Elementary School Students

Added May 16, 2019

Students who struggle with attention problems may encounter difficulties in their academic performance and social relationships. The researchers used a single-case design to examine the effectiveness of the Mindfulness-Based Attention Group for Children (MBAG-C) with elementary school students (N = 8) that were recruited from a mid-size city school district in a state in the southeastern part of the United States. The intervention was based on concepts from the InnerKids program (Flook et al., 2010) and the Attention Academy (Napoli, Krech & Holley, 2005). MBAG-C focused on mindful breathing, sensory awareness, being nonjudgmental, and choosing to respond instead of reacting. The researcher hypothesized that participation in the MBAG-C would (a) decrease attention problems, (b) improve on-task behavior, and (c) increase mindfulness level. The participants were randomly assigned to either an intervention group or a comparison group. The results showed that the intervention effect for improving on-task behavior ranged from no effect (N = 1), debatably effective (N = 2) to very effective (N = 2) and for decreasing attention problems also ranged from no effect (N = 1), debatably effective (N = 2) to very effective (N = 2). In terms of the mindfulness level, the intervention group demonstrated improvements ranging from debatable effective (N = 1), moderate effective (N = 1), and very effective (N = 3). However, the effectiveness of improving students’ mindfulness level might be uninterpretable, compared to the comparison group. The possible reason for lacking effectiveness of improving mindfulness might be related to mindfulness being an abstract concept. Young students may not fully understand “mindfulness”. Additionally, data collection related to assessing mindfulness only involved self-report and this may not accurately reflect students’ level of mindfulness. Furthermore, the students in the comparison group may have also been less interested in and had less patience to complete the MAAS-C since they did not participate in the intervention.

Based on the results of this study, promoting mindfulness practices can be helpful for addressing students’ attention problems. For attention problems and on-task behavior, the Relative Success Rate (RSR; Parker & Hagan-Burke, 2007) revealed that the MBAG-C group participants were 3.94 times more likely to improve their on-task behavior and 3.71 times to improve their attention problems across the intervention. This demonstrates promise for school counselors using MBAG-C with students to improve their attention problems, which may support academic success. With mindfulness training, school counselors can be instrumental in introducing the concepts of mindfulness in schools, which can be beneficial for students, as well as school personnel. For example, school counselors can facilitate mindfulness small groups with students to enhance their self-management and self-awareness skills, encourage students to practice mindfulness outside of counseling/small group sessions, train teachers to use mindfulness with all students as a regular classroom practice, and offer family workshops and send information home for parents on using mindfulness at home.

In the future researchers may replicate the current study with a larger sample size to strengthen internal validity and to control for school counselors’ (intervention facilitators’) mindfulness practices. Future research may also focus on examining whether the MBAG-C contributes to improved academic performance and social relationships. Researchers may also focus on examining the effectiveness of using the MBAG-C to address other constructs (i.e., stress, anxiety, self-esteem, self-regulation). The results of this study show promise for school counselors using the MBAG-C to address students’ attention problems and on-task behavior. However, more research is needed on this new intervention. Nevertheless, school counselors may seek to integrate mindfulness strategies within the school environment to strive for improving the academic success of all students, including those with attention problems.


Yi-Wen Su, PhD, Jacqueline M. Swank, PhD