The Research on Mindful Parenting

You may have heard about mindful parenting—it’s a hot phrase floating around these days. But what does it mean? And is there any evidence that parenting mindfully works for kids and better than any other kind of parenting? Here, we’ll discuss what mindful parenting is, what the research on mindful parenting says, and how to get started practicing this kind of parenting if you want to.

What is mindful parenting? 

In a meta-analysis (a research project that collects and analyzes previous research on a subject) published in 2021 in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, nursing researchers Shefaly Shorey and Esperanza Debby Ng of the Alice Centre for Nursing Studies at the National University of Singapore wrote, “Mindful parenting is the process of bringing awareness and attention intentionally in a non-reactive and non-judgemental way to a child at any present moment.” [1] In an essay on mindful parenting written for the Gottman Institute, social worker Jill Ceder says, “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.” [2]

What does the research say about mindful parenting? 

In the meta-analysis from Shorey and Ng mentioned above, the researchers analyzed data that included 1,340 parents from six countries. They found that mindfulness parenting interventions resulted in increases in mindfulness in parents. [1] In a 2016 meta-analysis led by Australian psychologist Kishani Townshend, the authors found that mindful parenting may reduce stress and increase emotional awareness in parents, as well as lead to less dismissal of children’s feelings by their parents. [3] And finally, in a 2019 meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Psychology, psychology researcher Maree Abbott and colleagues showed that there was a reduction in parenting stress and small improvement in outcomes for children and youth after mindfulness interventions. [4]

An important caveat with all of this research that each of the research teams emphasize that the findings are less strong than they could be because of the overall lack of research on this subject. There have not been many studies on mindfulness-based parenting interventions; therefore, much more research will be needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. That said, the overall trend of the impact of mindful parenting appears to be positive for both parents and their children.

Implementing Mindful Parenting 

The best way to start parenting more mindfully is to observe. First, observe yourself. Notice how your physical body feels while you interact with your children. Are you frustrated and tense or calm and relaxed? Does your jaw clench? Do smiles come easily? Do your best to observe the feelings and sensations in your body without passing judgment on yourself. In mindfulness, there is no “should.” If you find yourself thinking, “I love my children. I should be enjoying this time more,” notice that feeling too. Then remind yourself that many parts of parenting are not fun, and that it’s possible to both love your child and dislike those unfun parts of caring for them. This way of thinking is another element of mindfulness known as self-compassion. If you start by having compassion for yourself, it will be easier to have compassion for your child.

Once you’re more confident in responding mindfully to your own feelings and thoughts, you can incorporate more mindfulness as you respond to your children. Rather than reacting quickly to solve a nonemergent problem, observe the situation and listen to your child. Even babies can communicate with us if we do a good job of listening. By modeling this type of paying attention, you’ll also help your child to be more mindful of their own thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations and grow up having compassion for themselves and others.

  1. Shorey and E.D. Ng. “The efficacy of mindful parenting interventions: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2021.
  2. Ceder, “Mindful Parenting: How to Respond Instead of React.” The Gottman Institute. 2017.
  3. Townshend et al. “The effectiveness of mindful parenting programs in promoting parents’ and children’s wellbeing: a systematic review.” JBI database of systematic reviews and implementation reports. 2016.
  4. Burgdorf et al. “The Effect of Mindfulness Interventions for Parents on Parenting Stress and Youth Psychological Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in psychology. 2019.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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