Decreasing Anxiety and Depression Among Parents from a Low Socio-Economic Neighborhood
By Josephine Ojo Mhende, MPH
Georgia State University, Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD), Research Coordinator II, Mental Health First Aid Facilitator
Brief review of mindfulness-parenting education research
Mindfulness is most commonly associated with meditation techniques that aim to increase an individual’s awareness in the present moment, reduce mindless responding, and enhance non-judgmental observation. In a more modern context, Kabat-Zinn (2003) developed the Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as a way of using meditation to promote healing. Building on this definition, Duncan, Coatsworth, and Greenberg (2009) defined mindful parenting as “the intentional bringing of moment-to-moment awareness to the parent-child relationship.” Empirical research suggests that higher levels of mindful parenting may be associated with lower levels of externalizing and internalizing problems in children (Parent et al., 2015). Research also suggests that mindfulnessbased interventions represent a promising strategy for building parenting capacity and improving parent-child interactions (Parent et al., 2010; Duncan et al., 2009).
Implications of using mindfulness practices with children and families – Duncan et al. (2009) indicated that incorporating mindfulness practices into parenting allows parents to shift their attention and awareness to the present moment thereby giving parents less opportunities for automatic negative reactions. With mindfulness training, parents ultimately become more conscious about moment-to-moment parenting decisions and their actions. This is especially important because demonstrating positive parent-child interactions is critical for proper child brain development. Siegel and Payne Bryson (2015) reported that the way parents interact and respond to their children during moments of stress and conflict greatly impacts the cognitive development of their children. This is critical during the preschool years when children’s brains are developing rapidly and they are beginning to learn and engage in simple socialization skills. Parents who are taught mindfulness practices may be better able to handle difficult interactions with their children as they arise, modeling emotional regulation and problem solving for them.
Overview of Pilot Mindfulness-Parenting Education Project
Description of Project – During my master’s degree program of study in public health at GSU, I had the opportunity to work with staff in the Center for Disability in Leadership (CLD) on a mindfulness education parentingeducation program at the Atlanta Emmaus House. The pilot study doubled as my capstone project in partial fulfillment of my master’s thesis. Dr. Andy Roach was my thesis committee chairperson and Dr. Brian Barger served as a committee member. Dr. Roach involved me in this collaborative project with Emmaus House. The purpose of the pilot was to study whether parents of young children living in a low socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhood were able to effectively use mindfulness practices to increase mindfulness and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and parental stress. Participants were 15 parents in the Peoplestown (Atlanta) neighborhood who were already affiliated with Emmaus House. Individuals living in the Peoplestown neighborhood have risk factors for high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
A Great Start Parent Education Program – Participating parents self-identified their need for more effective stress management practices in order to improve interactions with their children. CLD personnel collaborated with Emmaus House to adapt an existing parenting program, A Great Start for Parents and Children (Great Start for short), to include mindfulness components. Great Start consists of an eight-week, two hour parent education program for parents and caregivers of children ages zero to five. In addition to instruction on child development and parenting skills, the Great Start program features informative lectures with opportunities for follow-up questions and discussions about topics such as developmental milestones of children and creating safe home environments for families.
Integration of Mindfulness Without Borders’ MAP Program – The resulting parenting program incorporated elements of the non-profit Mindfulness Without Borders’ Mindfulness Ambassador Program (MAP) Interactive. The MAP Interactive program offers individuals an opportunity to learn basic mindfulness practices, discover their full potential and cope with existential stresses of a complex world. Through MAP programming, parents, adolescents, and educators receive support for nurturing and developing the soft skills needed to train their attention, cultivate self-regulation, and enrich their overall wellbeing. The second hour of the two-hour sessions was led by a trained mindfulness facilitator who focused on introducing and practicing mindfulness concepts (e.g., breathing, awareness of experiences, gratitude, identifying emotional triggers, etc.). While the parenting and mindfulness topics were presented separately, both incorporated elements of the other. For example, during the parenting portion, mindfulness concepts were discussed as they related to the parenting related-content. Similarly, during the mindfulness portion of each session, examples and suggestions were provided on how concepts and practices could be applied to parenting. Some of the MAP techniques used during sessions included:
- Take 5: A daily mindfulness practice consisting of the participant
drawing five mindful breaths. This breathing practice is centered on
being connected and attentive to the sensation of the breath.
- TUZA: A daily mindfulness practice that creates a space for
participants to bring their focus to the present moment. This
breathing practice is centered on attending to the breath for 3 to
4 minutes. The purpose of TUZA is to develop mental focus and
acceptance of self and others.
- Body Scan: Involves paying attention to what the body is telling you
in the moment. This breathing practice is centered on inner wisdom,
body sensations, and trust. The purpose of the Body Scan is to
increase the sense of connectivity and develop greater sensitivity to
one’s body sensation and overall wellbeing.
Results of Mindfulness-Parenting Education Pilot
Assessment Tools Used – Some of the tools used to conduct the pre-post assessments for this study included:
- Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI): measures anxiety
- Center for Epidemiologic Depression Scale (CES-D): measures depression
- Family Event Checklist (FEC): measures family stress and functioning
- Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire-Short Form (5FMQ-SF): measures mindfulness
Results – As reported by participants, involvement in the integrated
mindfulness-parenting education program led to an increased level of
mindfulness. Program participants also demonstrated a decrease in
self-reported anxiety and depression. According to the results of this
pilot study, mindfulness training appears to be an acceptable strategy for
inclusion in parenting education programs.
For more information on the results of this mindfulness-parenting education pilot, contact Ms. Mhende at [email protected].