By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When we as adults learn mindfulness—paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity and then choosing our behavior—we can support our children and teenagers in bringing these skills into their lives. If we are in the present, we aren’t worrying about our third grader getting into college and we aren’t passing this stress onto them in our day-to-day interactions. If we learn to witness our anger, fear, and sadness with kindness and compassion we show our children that this way of working with intense emotion is possible. If we slow down and choose how to respond to a difficult situation in daily life, and especially if we do it during challenges with our children and “out loud,” “Honey I am really frustrated, that you did X again, I am going to take a few minutes and then we can discuss this.” Then they see that they can do the same with various difficulties. Children learn what they live; the best way to support them in practicing mindfulness is to practice ourselves.” – Amy Saltzman
Mindfulness training has been shown to be helpful with a vast array of medical and psychological problems. But, it is also helpful for dealing with everyday life, from work to relationships, to social interactions, to parenting. 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. This becomes particularly important with children with psychological problems. All of the challenges of parenting become amplified. The application of mindful parenting skills to clinical issues is relatively new. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate the ability of mindful parenting training to help children with psychological problems and their parents.
In today’s Research News article “Mindful Parenting Training in Child Psychiatric Settings: Heightened Parental Mindfulness Reduces Parents’ and Children’s Psychopathology.” See:
or below, Meppelink and colleagues used mindful parenting training to treat both children with serious psychopathology and their parents. The children were diagnosed with a range of disorders including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and adjustment disorder. The parents of these children received an 8 -week mindful parenting treatment delivered in a group format. It involved weekly 3-hour sessions and at least one hour of daily meditation. It included meditation, body scan, and yoga, and teaching of mindful parenting skills. Parents were assessed for mindfulness and mindful parenting, and both the parents and children were assessed for psychopathology both before and after training and again 8-weeks later.
They found that the training increased general mindfulness and mindful parenting scores in the parents and decreased both the parents’ and children’s psychopathology scores. These improvements were still present 8-weeks later. In addition, the greater the increase in the parents’ mindfulness, the greater the decrease in the parents’ psychopathology, but not the children’s. On the other hand, the greater the increase in the parents’ mindful parenting scores, the greater the decrease in the children’s psychopathology, but not the parents’. These results suggest that mindful parenting training benefits both the parents and the children, with improved mindfulness benefiting the parents while improved mindful parenting benefiting the children.
These conclusions need to be tempered with the understanding that there was not a control condition. So, it is impossible to tell if the improvements occurred because of the mindful parenting or due to a subject expectancy (placebo) effect, due to experimenter bias, spontaneous remission, or other confounding variable. A randomized controlled trial is needed.
Nevertheless, these results are encouraging, provide the rationale for more extensive and tightly controlled research, and suggest that children’s and parents psychological problems can be improved with mindful parenting training.
“It seems there’s no one right way to parent mindfully. Happily, there are many right ways. Sometimes the smallest adjustment in a child’s schedule can change a whole family’s day-to-day life. And sometimes it’s as simple as practicing paying full attention to our kids, with openness and compassion, and maybe that’s enough at any moment.” – Juliann Garey
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Meppelink R, de Bruin EI, Wanders-Mulder FH, Vennik CJ, Bögels SM. Mindful Parenting Training in Child Psychiatric Settings: Heightened Parental Mindfulness Reduces Parents’ and Children’s Psychopathology. Mindfulness (N Y). 2016;7:680-689. Epub 2016 Mar 15. Doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0504-1
Mindful parenting training is an application of mindfulness-based interventions that allows parents to perceive their children with unbiased and open attention without prejudgment and become more attentive and less reactive in their parenting. This study examined the effectiveness of mindful parenting training in a clinical setting on child and parental psychopathology and of mindfulness as a predictor of these outcomes. Seventy parents of 70 children (mean age = 8.7) who were referred to a mental health care clinic because of their children’s psychopathology participated in an 8-week mindful parenting training. Parents completed questionnaires at pre-test, post-test and 8-week follow-up. A significant decrease was found in children’s and parents’ psychopathology and a significant increase in mindful parenting and in general mindful awareness. Improvement in general mindful awareness, but not mindful parenting, was found to predict a reduction in parental psychopathology, whereas improvement in mindful parenting, but not general mindful awareness, predicted the reduction of child psychopathology. This study adds to the emerging body of evidence indicating that mindful parenting training is effective for parents themselves and, indirectly, for their children suffering from psychopathology. As parents’ increased mindful parenting, but not increased general mindfulness, is found to predict child psychopathology, mindful parenting training rather than general mindfulness training appears to be the training of choice. However, RCTs comparing mindful parenting to general mindfulness training and to parent management training are needed in order to shed more light on the effects of mindful parenting and mechanisms of change.