How mindfulness changes parenting

Here is a guest post by Lisa May about her recent paper, published in the journal Mindfulness.

Relationship between parents and their adolescent children are notoriously rocky. Nonetheless, research shows that a warm, caring parent-child bond can protect kids from problems during adolescence such as substance abuse, depression, and delinquency. That’s why it’s important to understand how parents can strengthen their relationships with their teenage kids. In this study, we tested whether mindfulness training might help. Parents and their early adolescent children (ages 9-13) attended an eight-week course together. In contrast to a traditional parenting class, parents and kids in our study learned mindfulness exercises that were designed to help them be present, kind, and open in their moment-to-moment experience. Parents and kids each answered questions about their lives and relationships before and after the eight-week course, and we measured parents’ brain activity before and after the course, too. This allowed us to look at how the mindfulness training affected parents’ brain activity, the parent-child relationship, and the connections between the two. Parent brain activity increased in areas related to self-awareness and emotion. Increases in parents’ brain activity in an area involved in empathy and emotion tracked with increases in their children’s reports of the parent–child relationship. In other words, the kids of parents whose brain activity changed the most in this empathy/emotion area felt the most improvement in their relationship with their parents. Based on this, we believe that parent empathy and emotion might be particularly important in parent-child relationships during adolescence. Mindfulness training might help parents be more empathetic with their adolescent kids.

Full citation info:

May, L. M., Reinka, M. A., Tipsord, J. M., Felver, J. C., & Berkman, E. T. (in press). Parenting an early adolescent: A pilot study examining neural and relationship quality changes of a mindfulness intervention. Mindfulness. [pdf]

About Elliot Berkman

Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon
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