Reduce Parenting Stress and Improve Youth Psychological Health with Mindfulness

Reduce Parenting Stress and Improve Youth Psychological Health with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindful parenting means that you bring your conscious attention to what’s happening, instead of getting hijacked by your emotions. Mindfulness is about letting go of guilt and shame about the past and focusing on right now. It’s about accepting whatever is going on, rather than trying to change it or ignore it.” – Jill Ceder


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. The challenges of parenting require that the parents be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive 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. It improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction.


Mindful parenting involves the parents having emotional awareness of themselves and compassion for the child and having the skills to pay full attention to the child in the present moment, to accept parenting non-judgmentally and be emotionally non-reactive to the child. Mindful parenting has been shown to have positive benefits for both the parents and the children. The research is accumulating. So, it is important to review and summarize what has been learned.


In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Mindfulness Interventions for Parents on Parenting Stress and Youth Psychological Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Burgdorf and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the published research studies on the effects of mindfulness training on parents and children. They found 25 published studies.


They report that the published research studies found that following mindfulness training there were moderate to large reductions in parental stress levels. They also found that parental mindfulness training improved their children with significant improvements observed in internalizing and externalizing symptoms, in higher level thinking ability (cognitive domains), and in their social function. In addition, the greater the reductions in parental stress levels reported, the greater the improvements in youth cognitive abilities and externalizing symptoms. Hence, mindfulness training for parents affected the family positively, reducing the perceived stress of parenting and improving their children’s psychological and social abilities. Mindfulness training would appear to have very positive benefits for parents and children.


So, reduce parenting stress and improve youth psychological health with mindfulness.


“It seems there’s no one right way to parent mindfully. Happily, there are many right ways. . . 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


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Burgdorf, V., Szabó, M., & Abbott, M. J. (2019). The Effect of Mindfulness Interventions for Parents on Parenting Stress and Youth Psychological Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1336. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01336



Background: The psychological well-being of parents and children is compromised in families characterized by greater parenting stress. As parental mindfulness is associated with lower parenting stress, a growing number of studies have investigated whether mindfulness interventions can improve outcomes for families. This systematic review and meta-analysis evaluates the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions for parents, in reducing parenting stress and improving youth psychological outcomes.

Methods: A literature search for peer-reviewed articles and dissertations was conducted in accordance with PRISMA guidelines in the PsycInfo, Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, Web of Science, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and ProQuest Dissertations & Theses databases. Studies were included if they reported on a mindfulness-based intervention delivered in person to parents with the primary aim of reducing parenting stress or improving youth psychological outcomes.

Results: Twenty-five independent studies were included in the review. Eighteen studies used a single group design and six were randomized controlled trials. Within-groups, meta-analysis indicated a small, post-intervention reduction in parenting stress (g = 0.34), growing to a moderate reduction at 2 month follow-up (g = 0.53). Overall, there was a small improvement in youth outcomes (g = 0.27). Neither youth age or clinical status, nor time in mindfulness training, moderated parenting stress or overall youth outcome effects. Youth outcomes were not moderated by intervention group attendees. Change in parenting stress predicted change in youth externalizing and cognitive effects, but not internalizing effects. In controlled studies, parenting stress reduced more in mindfulness groups than control groups (g = 0.44). Overall, risk of bias was assessed as serious.

Conclusions: Mindfulness interventions for parents may reduce parenting stress and improve youth psychological functioning. While improvements in youth externalizing and cognitive outcomes may be explained by reductions in parenting stress, it appears that other parenting factors may contribute to improvements in youth internalizing outcomes. Methodological weaknesses in the reviewed literature prevent firm conclusions from being drawn regarding effectiveness. Future research should address these methodological issues before mindfulness interventions for parents are recommended as an effective treatment option for parents or their children.


Mindful Fatherhood

Mindful Fatherhood


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindful Fathering is the act of consciously checking into your life as a father. It’s about staying present in your life as a father, observing the dreary, ugly, and painful parts of fathering with acceptance and non-judgement, and honoring those parts with our full attention, just as we honor the wonderful and sublime moments of fatherhood, rather than numbing ourselves out of our lives through substances, technology, or boredom.”MindfulFathering


Fathers’ Day, like Mother’s Day was basically invented and promoted by the greeting card and florist industries. But, even though its origins were crass, the idea took off, because it hit upon a truth; that most of us love our fathers. As a result, Fathers’ Day has become a culturally accepted and encouraged time for the celebration of fatherhood and all that it means. The deep bonds and love that most people feel for their fathers and their fathers for them fuels the celebration of the holiday.


The holiday is also popular as everyone has a father, who in turn, has had a father, who has had a father, etc. Many are, or want to be fathers. It has and always will, play an immensely important role in our individual and societal existence. The effectiveness, or lack thereof, of fathering has a major impact on the children that continues throughout their lives. It is such an important role that it seems reasonable to explore what goes into successful fathering and child rearing and what might be of assistance in improving fathering. There has accumulated a tremendous amount of scientific evidence that mindfulness, (“awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”) can be an important asset for fathers. So, on this day celebrating fatherhood, we’ll explore the role of mindfulness.


Mindfulness has been found to be important to becoming a father in the first place. Mindfulness makes the individual more attractive to the opposite sex, it improves sexual relationships, it helps to relieve infertility, and it improves relationships in general. All of which underscores the importance of mindfulness in improving the likelihood that conception will occur and that the infant will be born into a supportive social context. Mindfulness continues after birth to be of assistance as it improves caregiving and parenting, even in the case where the child has developmental disabilities. Mindfulness not only helps the parents deal with the stresses of childrearing, but developing mindfulness in the child can be of great assistance to helping the kids develop emotionally and cognitively, develop high level thinking, develop healthy self-concepts, develop socially, deal with stress, and cope with trauma and childhood depression. It even improves the child’s psychosocial development and academic performance and grades in school. In addition, it seems to be able to assist children through the troubled times of adolescence.


Fathering does not occur in a vacuum. It’s been said that “It takes a village” to rear a child. Indeed, fatherhood is embedded in a community. There are many people who are either directly or indirectly involved, from the mother, to the extended family, the community, the medical profession, teachers, clergy, social workers, childcare workers, and even the government. So relationships become an essential part of fathering from conception, to birth, and family and social life. Mindfulness is important to the father in developing and promoting these social connections that are so important for the child’s development. Mindful people generally connect better and are better liked by others, making them socially much more effective.


Why would mindfulness be such an important component of fatherhood? There are a number of reasons that mindfulness helps. It reduces the psychological and physical effects of stress on the father and let’s face it, raising children can be quite stressful. Mindfulness helps the father maintain his health and well-being, and to recover quicker should he become ill. Mindfulness also improves emotion regulation making the father better able to be in touch with his emotions yet react to them adaptively and effectively. This skill is needed as children are capable of learning how to push all the parents buttons and reacting well is essential to dealing successfully with the child.


With the increasing frequency of divorce and single parent households, the first and most important function of a father is simply to be present for their child. This may take the form of a traditional family, but may also be as the primary custodian, or only during delineated visitations, or there may be shared responsibility with separate households, or as a step-parent. The mindful father takes this role and his responsibilities to the child very seriously and regardless of the living arrangements invests time and resources in the child. Regardless of the circumstances being mindfully involved in the child’s life is crucial. But being present doesn’t just mean being physically present hanging around. Probably the most important thing a father can do is to simply be present with the child, devoting singular attention to the child. It means attending to the children emotionally, listening carefully, and being caring and compassionate.


The essential capacity developed in mindfulness training is paying much greater attention to what’s occurring in the present moment. This can be of immense help to the father. It makes him better attuned to his child’s and to his own needs. It reduces rumination and recriminations about past mistakes. It tends to diminish the worry and anxiety about the future. It helps him to focus on what needs to be done now, making him much more effective. And it helps him to experience the joys of fatherhood to their fullest. In general, by focusing on now, he is tuned into the only time that matters for himself or his child, improving his relationship with reality, dealing with its problems and relishing its wonders.


This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness training promotes paying close attention to what is happening in the present moment. So, when interacting with their children a mindful father is truly present for them and not thinking about other things. Mindfulness promotes careful attentive listening. One of the most important things a child wants is to be truly heard. That is the gift of a mindful father. Mindfulness also promotes compassion, being aware of the emotional state of another. This is also important for a child. Childhood can be difficult and being in touch with a child’s moods is an important part of effective fathering. Mindfulness also develops the ability to closely observe without judging the child. This is immensely important for the development of the child’s self-concept and for the flowering of experimentation and creativity. Yes, children need direction, but too much judging can cause harm. So, observing the child with non-judgmental awareness is important for children flourishing.


Hence, mindfulness can make fathering better, both for the father, and the child. So, on this important day of celebration of fathers, let’s adopt mindfulness and make it a part of our relationship with our fathers and our children. Most of us love our fathers but we love mindful fathers even more especially when we ourselves are mindful.


“But mindfulness is really about being the best parent you can be. When we are mindful, we think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.  If we are grounded in principles, it is easier to be more aware of what is happening at the moment and to be more observant.  Connecting with the deep reasons why we chose to be a parent can help us see what is going on in a clearer light.Wayne Parker


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Improve Parenting with Mindfulness


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


Develop Your Eulogy Virtues

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” – David Brooks


The renowned columnist David Brooks likes to contrast two differing sets of virtues that we aspire to. One he terms the resume virtues, the other the eulogy virtues.

For the most part the resume virtues predominate for the majority of our lives. We strive for success and achievement. We work for years to attain an academic degree that we can place on our resume and use as the basis for the next entries on our resume revolving around our career. We measure our success by our titles and the wealth we accumulate.


The resume virtues are important and striving to do well in life and make a comfortable living are good things. They can, of course, become a problem when they are overemphasized and become the predominant focus in our lives. Too great of a stress on the resume virtues can result in the exclusion of the other aspects of life that are the true source of happiness and satisfaction. These are the eulogy virtues.


On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on developing their eulogy virtues. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.


It is clear that to live a full life we have to develop our resumes but it is far more important in the long run that we develop the eulogy virtues. But, how do we do this when the rewards of society and the urgings of our egos all push us towards developing our resumes. The answer may well be contemplative practice. These practices, meditation, yoga, tai chi, contemplative prayer, etc. have been shown to help in developing the exact abilities and experiences longed for by the dying.


Contemplative practice focuses us more on experiencing the present moment and doing so without judging it. This provides a better perspective on our lives, seeing ourselves as we are without judgment. This can lead us to follow our hearts and be true to ourselves rather than being a slave to what we perceive others expect. By appreciating the present moment we can learn to enjoy where our lives actually play out, the present moment. This can lead us to even having greater appreciation and enjoyment throughout our lives, even during the time we spend working.


Contemplative practice helps us to accept our flaws and accept and appreciate others. As a result it improves relationships and social interactions. It helps us to become better listeners and more compassionate toward others. Increased understanding and compassion for others is a motivator to becoming involved in improving our world.


Contemplative practice helps to develop the ability to regulate emotions and improve emotional intelligence. So, we get in better touch with our true feelings and become better able to express them to others.  Importantly, contemplative practice has been shown to increase happiness. We enjoy life and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.


Finally, contemplative practice has been shown to help to develop acceptance of ourselves. Many people do not like themselves. Contemplative practice is an antidote for self-loathing, tending instead to improve self-love. It can help us accept and like ourselves more. It is difficult to truly love others if you don’t love yourself. So, the self-love developed in contemplative practice is a requirement for loving others. It leads inevitably to caring more for others and be willing to express that love.


So, engage in contemplative practice and develop your eulogy virtues.


“What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.” – David Rubenstein


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies