Entropy Rules

Mindfulness-Based Interventions:

Great Qualities Of A Good Parent

    Perhaps most central to the current research question of whether and how mindfulness could influence the interruption of the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment is the question of the malleability of mindfulness and mindful parenting, and whether they can be targeted and enhanced through formal intervention.
    An emerging body of research on mindfulness-based parenting interventions speaks to this question in healthy populations. Duncan and Bardacke (2010) investigated the effects of Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting, a program similar to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction designed for pregnant women and their partners. It includes formal meditation practice. Data suggested large effect sizes for changes related to participation in Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting. These changes included increased positive affect and mindfulness, as well as decreased negative affect, pregnancy-related anxiety, and depression. Qualitative reports confirm participants experience subjective benefit from participation (Duncan & Bardacke, 2010). However, Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting does not specifically target at-risk parents.
    Coatsworth and colleagues (2015) designed a randomized controlled trial comparing the empirically-supported Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 (SFP; Molgaard, Kumpfer, & Fleming, 2001) to similar "Mindfulness-Enhanced" Strengthening Families Program (MSFP) and a minimal information-only intervention. MSFP included activities and information grounded in theory stating that mindfulness should enhance parenting by decreasing problematic, habitual reactivity (Dumas, 2005). With that in mind, MSFP was designed to help parents use the parenting skills that they have more effectively through increased awareness (Duncan et al., 2009). MSFP included brief, informal mindfulness practices that focused on awareness of breathing and intention setting. Additionally, parents in MSFP participated in mindfulness-based activities designed to increase emotional awareness and regulation, enhance present-moment attention and focus, and promote nonjudgmental, benevolent attitudes towards themselves as parents as well as their children. Parents were encouraged but not required to practice these activities at home; thus the intervention included very little formal mindfulness practice (Coatsworth et al., 2015).
    The original pilot study of MSFP (Coatsworth, Duncan, Greenberg, & Nix, 2010) showed that MSFP had comparable effects as standard SFP pertaining to child management effectiveness, but MSFP showed stronger effects on enhancing mindful parenting as well as the parent-youth relationship quality. MSFP had an indirect effect on parent-youth relationship quality through enhanced mindful parenting (Coatsworth et al., 2010). For example, MSFP participants showed even greater improvements in anger management, emotional awareness of themselves and their children, and increased positive and decreased negative emotions during their interactions with their children compared to standard SFP. Importantly, there was evidence that mothers began to perceive their children's behavior differently; although youth reported enacting stable positive behavior and slightly more negative behavior towards their mothers, the mothers themselves reported substantially more positive behavior and less negative behavior (Coatsworth et al, 2010). This is promising, given the negative attention and memory bias seen in child maltreatment survivors. This study is limited in that the authors did not report on the presence of maltreatment in these parenting dyads, or presence of maltreatment in parenting history. This study provides evidence that when parents improve their ability to self-regulate, as through mindfulness, they may be more effective at socializing their children in positive ways (Thompson & Meyer, 2007).
    In the follow-up study of MSFP (Coatsworth et al., 2015), contrary to the authors' expectations that MSFP would provide incremental benefit over standard SFP in enhancing mindful parenting, parent-child relationship quality, and parent well-being, results actually showed MSFP performed comparably to SFP. Both forms of the intervention increased mindful parenting, relationship quality, parent well-being and parenting effectiveness. In this study, MSFP's unique contribution was for fathers specifically, increasing their mindful parenting and enhancing relationship quality with their youth more so than SFP. Mothers in MSFP actually reported less self-perceived self-regulation compared to SFP mothers; but the authors speculate this counter intuitive finding could be based on enhanced awareness in MSFP mothers that made them more keenly aware of times when they were not as regulated as they could or would like to have been. Another advantage to MSFP appeared to be that it enhanced the longevity of certain intervention effects across the one-year follow up period, namely mothers' effective monitoring of youth activities and fathers' relationships with youth, parenting effectiveness, and well-being (Coatsworth et al., 2015). Although the intervention included a demographic index of parenting risk (~25% of participants reported having high school diploma or less in the sample), it is unclear whether this intervention could be effectively applied to parents who are survivors of maltreatment given the study collected no information on this or related variables. It would be interesting to study whether the addition of more formal mindfulness meditation practice to the MSFP program would increase the strength or size of beneficial effects. Additionally, given discrepancies between the two studies' effects, further studies of the MSFP program are warranted to clarify whether or not the addition of mindfulness provides incremental benefit in improving family functioning.
    While Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting and Mindfulness-Enhanced Strengthening Families Program are examples of MBPIs that have generally been used in health community samples, other researchers have started to investigate MBPIs for at-risk populations. For example, Dimidjian and colleagues (2016) investigated the efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression in a perinatal population with a risk factor for disrupted attachment, a history of depression. They found that MBCT was an acceptable form of treatment in this population based on group attendance, home practice completion, and satisfaction. Additionally, compared to treatment as usual, women who completed MBCT had significantly lower depression both pre and up to 6 months postnatally and were less likely to experience a depressive relapse. No information about child maltreatment history was taken although women with more complex clinical presentations (e.g., current substance use, personality disorders, current depression) were excluded from the study (Dimidjian et al., 2016).

⇲ About The Author

Robin Hertz, MA is currently in the process of completing a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oregon.