The psychological well-being of parents and children is compromised in families characterized by greater parenting stress. As parental mindfulness is associated with lower parenting stress, a growing number of studies have investigated whether mindfulness interventions can improve outcomes for families. This systematic review and meta-analysis evaluates the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions for parents, in reducing parenting stress and improving youth psychological outcomes.
A literature search for peer-reviewed articles and dissertations was conducted in accordance with PRISMA guidelines in the PsycInfo, Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, Web of Science, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and ProQuest Dissertations & Theses databases. Studies were included if they reported on a mindfulness-based intervention delivered in person to parents with the primary aim of reducing parenting stress or improving youth psychological outcomes.
Twenty-five independent studies were included in the review. Eighteen studies used a single group design and six were randomized controlled trials. Within-groups, meta-analysis indicated a small, post-intervention reduction in parenting stress (g = 0.34), growing to a moderate reduction at 2 month follow-up (g = 0.53). Overall, there was a small improvement in youth outcomes (g = 0.27). Neither youth age or clinical status, nor time in mindfulness training, moderated parenting stress or overall youth outcome effects. Youth outcomes were not moderated by intervention group attendees. Change in parenting stress predicted change in youth externalizing and cognitive effects, but not internalizing effects. In controlled studies, parenting stress reduced more in mindfulness groups than control groups (g = 0.44). Overall, risk of bias was assessed as serious.
Mindfulness interventions for parents may reduce parenting stress and improve youth psychological functioning. While improvements in youth externalizing and cognitive outcomes may be explained by reductions in parenting stress, it appears that other parenting factors may contribute to improvements in youth internalizing outcomes. Methodological weaknesses in the reviewed literature prevent firm conclusions from being drawn regarding effectiveness. Future research should address these methodological issues before mindfulness interventions for parents are recommended as an effective treatment option for parents or their children.
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