By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“It’s as simple as practicing paying full attention to our kids, with openness and compassion, and maybe that’s enough at any moment.” – Mark Bertin
Raising children, parenting, is very rewarding. But, it can also be challenging. Children test parents frequently. They test the boundaries of their freedom and the depth of parental love. They demand attention and seem to especially when parental attention is needed elsewhere. They don’t always conform to parental dictates or aspirations for their behavior. They are often affected more by peers, for good or evil, than by parents. It is the parents challenge to control themselves, not overreact, and act appropriately in the face of strong emotions. Meeting these challenges becomes more and more important as the youth approaches adolescence, as that is the time of the greatest struggle for independence and the potential for damaging behaviors, particularly, alcohol, drugs, and sexual behavior.
The challenges of parenting require that the parent be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive to their child. These skills are exactly those that are developed in mindfulness training. It improves the psychological and physiological responses to stress. It improves emotion regulation. And it improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction. So, it would seem reasonable to postulate that mindfulness training would improve parenting skills.
In today’s Research News article “Integrating Mindfulness with Parent Training: Effects of the Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families”
Coatsworth and colleagues add mindfulness training to an empirically validated program for enhancing parenting skills called the Strengthening Families Program (SFP). The mindfulness enhancements were listening with full attention, nonjudgmental acceptance of self and child, emotional awareness of self and child, self-regulation in parenting, and compassion for self and child. They compared families of 6th and 7th grade students randomly assigned to receive either the Strengthening Families Program (SFP), the Mindfulness-Enhanced the Strengthening Families Program (MSFP), or a home study control. Training was delivered in 7 weekly, 2-hour, sessions, where the parents and youth meet in separate sessions.
They found that the mothers in both the SFP and MSFP groups self-reported significantly improved levels of self-regulation in parenting, better emotional awareness of youth, greater positive affective/interaction quality with their youths, and higher levels of family involvement than the control group. They also reported better monitoring and alcohol rule communication with their youth. The youths reported that their mothers demonstrated significantly improved listening with full attention, better self-regulation in parenting, and greater compassion/acceptance toward their youths. In terms of the fathers, they found greater emotional awareness of youth, more compassion/acceptance for their youths, more compassion/acceptance for themselves as parents, more positive affective/interaction quality, and higher levels of family involvement. Interestingly, adding the mindfulness component increased the impact of the training for the fathers but not the mothers.
The findings clearly demonstrate that the Strengthening Families Program improves parenting and that the addition of a mindfulness component improved its effectiveness for fathers. These results suggest that mindfulness training is important in improving parenting particularly for fathers. These results were found for a particularly important and challenging time for parents, the beginning of the transition to adolescence.
So, improve parenting with mindfulness.
“Mindful Parenting is a contemplative practice through which our connection to our child, and awareness of our child’s presence, helps us become better grounded in the present moment.” – The Mindful Parent
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies