Mindful parents are more positive and share better relationships with their teens.
Researchers at Colorado State University were curious to know if mindfulness might help parents navigate parenting their teens with a bit more ease. Mindful parenting programs – those designed to incorporate mindfulness-based principles and practices with traditional parenting skills – are increasing in popularity, but we know little about their effectiveness.
In a study, 432 families of 6th and 7th grade students attended either a mindful parenting program (Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families Program), typical parenting instruction (Strengthening Families Program), or read two parenting booklets.
The Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families Program is based on the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14. For both, parents and youths attend different groups where they focus on how to improve communication and strengthen parent-teen relationships. They then join up and learn skills together. The mindfulness-enhanced version emphasizes listening with full attention, and learning to avoid knee jerk reactions to unpleasant behaviors.
There are very few studies that explore mom’s and dad’s parenting skills separately. Since moms and dads pay unique roles in children’s lives, researchers also wanted to see if changes in mom’s and dad’s behavior impacted kids differently.
They found a strong link between mindful parenting, positive parenting practices and positive parent-teen relationships for both mothers and fathers. More mindful moms and dads tended to be more positive, and had better relationships with their teenagers.
Interestingly, mindful parenting was tied to less teen aggression, but only for dads. Fathers also showed greater gains in mindful parenting scores regardless of which parenting group they attended, but mothers did not.
“Mindful parenting is a set of skills and ways of approaching parenting tasks that changes over time – meaning that interventions that effectively target these skills can influence the way that parents parent with attention, acceptance, emotional attunement and compassion, “ said the study’s lead author, Doug Coatsworth, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Applied Developmental Science Program at Colorado State University. “Changes in positive parenting strategies can enhance relationships at a time when parent-child interactions typically increase in conflict.”
An important part of the study is that changes in mindful and positive parenting were looked at over the span of a year. This allowed researchers to see whether changes in parent and teen behavior lasted. They found that fathers who received mindful parenting instruction were more aware of their children's emotions over time, whereas those without mindfulness instruction were not. Once again, these changes were not observed for mothers.
Other studies have also found that, in general, mothers tend to report more mindful parenting than fathers overall. Authors of the present study suggest that this may be because mothers may have a greater tendency to connect with their children in the present moment, and be more emotionally attuned than fathers.
“The biggest thing that a parent can do to be more mindful is to pay careful attention to what their child is saying and doing, but also to their own reactions”, says Coatsworth. “Careful attention often stops parent’s automatic reactions, allows them a moment to calm themselves physiologically and mentally, and to be more present for their child.”