More Attentive Mother-Child Interactions are Associated 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. Hence, it is important to study the effects of the mother’s mindfulness on their interactions with their infants.
In today’s Research News article “Does Mothers’ Self-Reported Mindful Parenting Relate to the Observed Quality of Parenting Behavior and Mother-Child Interaction?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7652703/ ) Potharst and colleagues recruited mothers with infants (0 to 24 months of age) and toddlers (24 to 48 months of age). The mothers completed measures of mindful parenting and were observed with their infants and toddlers for maternal sensitivity and acceptance. The mother’s speech while interacting with the child was categorized and mind related comments assessed and the mothers gaze during the interaction recorded.
They found that the higher the levels of mindful parenting the higher the levels of compassion for the child. They also found that the higher the levels of mindful listening with full attention the higher the levels of non-attuned mind related comments. Finally, they found that the higher the levels of mindful parenting, the higher the levels of mother’s gave upon the child’s face during interacting with the child.
These results are interesting but correlational, so caution must be exercised in concluding causation. The results do suggest that the mother’s levels of mindful parenting are related to their levels of compassion for the child and how the mothers interact with the child. In particular mindful parenting appears to be related to the amount of attention the mother provides the child. These better interactions between mother and child might predict better psychological well-being of the children are they grow. It will be interesting in the future to investigate whether training in mindful parenting will produce improvements in mother’s interactions with their children.
So, more attentive mother-child interactions are associated with mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is also a potent tool for parents, especially when they’re feeling challenged by a child’s attitudes or behavior, and it’s easier to achieve than most people realize.” – Donna Matthews
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Potharst, E. S., Leyland, A., Colonnesi, C., Veringa, I. K., Salvadori, E. A., Jakschik, M., Bögels, S. M., & Zeegers, M. (2020). Does Mothers’ Self-Reported Mindful Parenting Relate to the Observed Quality of Parenting Behavior and Mother-Child Interaction?. Mindfulness, 1–13. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01533-0
Growing academic interest in mindful parenting (MP) requires a reliable and valid measure for use in research and clinical setting. Because MP concerns the way parents relate to, and nurture, their children, it is important to evaluate the associations between self-reported MP and observed parenting and parent-child interaction measures.
Seventy-three mothers who experience difficulties with their young children aged 0–48 months admitted for a Mindful with your baby/toddler training (63% in a mental health care and 27% in a preventative context) were included. Mothers completed the Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting scale (IM-P) and video-observations of parent-child interactions were coded for maternal sensitivity, acceptance, mind-mindedness, and emotional communication (EC).
The IM-P total score was positively associated only with mothers’ gaze to the child (EC). IM-P subscale Listening with Full Attention negatively predicted non-attuned mind-mindedness, Compassion with the Child positively predicted maternal sensitivity and positive facial expression (EC), and Emotional Awareness of Self positively predicted mothers’ gaze to the child (EC) and dyadic synchrony of positive affect (EC).
The current study provides support for the hypothesis that the IM-P total score is predictive of maternal actual attention for the child during a face-to-face interaction. When the IM-P is administered with the aim to gain understanding of different aspects of parenting behavior and the parent-child interaction, it is important not only to employ the IM-P total score but also to incorporate the individual IM-P subscales, as meaningful associations between IM-P subscales and observed parenting and parent-child interactions were found.