SEATTLE – Mindfulness exercises can ease stress for low-income parents and improve mental health measures in their children, results of a small pilot study presented at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry indicate.
The researchers credit the location of the mindfulness intervention, an early childhood developmental center, and the focus on the child rather than the parent for the success of the program. The intervention is designed to help the child, and that is the major message to the parent. “Every parent will do things to help their child, even though not every parent will do things to help themselves,” said Matthew G. Biel, MD, of Georgetown University, Washington, who presented the study at a poster session.
Mindfulness has gained traction among adults and children, but its application to parenting is new, he said. The study was open label and included 33 caregivers of children aged 0-5 years (85% female, 82% African American, 85% with household income less than $50,000/year). All subjects participated in a weekly mindfulness session lasting 60-90 minutes, which was led by an experienced instructor who had strong cultural knowledge of the local community. Sessions were conducted in a circle and included mindfulness practices and parent sharing of experiences. Focal points for mindfulness practices included breathing, body awareness, mindful movement, thoughts, emotions, and mindful listening and speaking.
The intervention was associated with statistically significant improvements in a range of measures, including sleep disturbance (effect size, 0.50; P = .005), parenting stress (ES, 0.33; P = .012), mindful discipline (ES, 0.21; P = .043), parental support (ES, 0.44; P = .007), child autonomy (ES, 032; P = .033), positive affect in parents (ES, 0.28; P = .046) and negative affect in parents (ES, 0.49; P = .028), and overall parental mental health (ES, 0.55; P = .020). “Across the board we’re seeing a positive impact,” said Dr. Biel.
The researchers are now implementing the program in another school and planning an intervention study with a waiting list control.
Satyani McPherson, a coauthor of the study and a mindfulness expert who has been teaching since the 1980s, explained that mindfulness really needs to be experienced to be understood. “You can talk about this all day, and no one gets it until they experience it. As soon as people have their mindfulness practice, they come out of it and they say, ‘Aaah, I feel so much better,’ ” she said in an interview.
The key to success lies in repetition and practice, and parents who did their mindfulness “homework” between sessions saw more benefit in the pilot study, said Ms. McPherson. The good news is that mindfulness can be incorporated into all sorts of daily activities, whether it’s showering, eating, or being stopped at a red light. It can even be used as a sort of time-out for patients. “Go into the restroom, lock the door, and observe your breath for one minute, or just one breath or three breaths. It helps you to ground yourself,” said Ms. McPherson.
Ms McPherson is an employee of Minds Incorporated. Dr. Biel receives research support from the Bainum Family Foundation, Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, DC Health, Marriott Foundation, and self-funds his research.
SOURCE: AACAP 2018. .