The Moderating Role of Mindfulness on the Relationship between Parental Stress and Response to Child

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Virginia Tech


Increased stress levels due to parenting have been shown to correlate to harsher parenting responses towards children (Belsky, 1984). Mindfulness, however, suggests the ability to focus on the present moment in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive manner. Similarly, parents with increased mindfulness have reported more open dialogue and warmth with their child (Williams & Wahler, 2010). Few studies have examined an ecologically valid test measuring the constructs of stress reactivity together with parent and child observed interaction. This study examined the moderating role of mindfulness and its effect on the relationship between parenting stress reactivity and parent response to child. Thirty-nine mother and child dyads participated in a validated activity-based parent-child interaction task designed to measure the level of maternal criticism directed toward child via behavioral coding. Mother's heart rate (HR) was monitored to determine the physiological measure of stress reactivity. Mothers also completed self-report forms to indicate levels of mindfulness, perceived stress-reactivity and parenting feelings. Results demonstrated significant main effects for parent self-reported levels of stress reactivity to social challenges and mindful non-reactivity on self-reported parent negative feelings; however, these main effects were better accounted by mother depression, stress, and child age. Mindfulness significantly predicted in-lab levels of mother critical response to child. Additionally, results indicated a significant interaction between mindfulness and perceived stress reactivity, such that mindfulness predicted less criticism toward the child in parents who reported low stress reactivity. Given the low sample size and subsequent low power, results should be viewed with caution.



parent-child interaction, mindfulness, stress reactivity, parenting