Parent Mindfulness, Parenting, and Child Psychopathology in China

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Springer New York LLC

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Objectives Considering the Western-Eastern cultural differences in parenting practices, as well as the relative paucity of research on the use of mindfulness-based programs by Chinese parents, we replicated a recently proposed Western model of mindfulness. The purpose of this study was to test the direct and indirect relations between parents’ dispositional mindfulness, mindful parenting, parenting practices, and child internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Method A total of 2237 Chinses parents (M = 38.46, SD = 4.43) of 6- to 12-year-old children participated in the current study. Results The results showed that parents’ dispositional mindfulness was indirectly associated with child internalizing and externalizing behaviors through mindful parenting and positive parenting practices, whereas this pathway was not significant through negative parenting practices. In addition, mothers and fathers demonstrated almost equal effects on direct and indirect pathways except that mothers showed stronger effects on the relationships between dispositional mindfulness and mindful parenting, as well as on the link between negative parenting practices and child externalizing behaviors. Conclusions These findings contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying how mindfulness and parenting associated with child internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and have important implications for research on interventions aimed at promoting children’s psychological well-being. Mindfulness refers to “the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn 2003, p. 145). Research has highlighted a number of benefits associated with increased mindfulness, including reduced depression and anxiety symptoms (Keng et al. 2011; Moreira and Canavarro 2018). In addition, comparable effectiveness has been observed between mindfulness-based programs and other evidence-based treatments (Goldberg et al. 2017) with promising results demonstrated across various settings and age groups. In recent years, increased attention has focused on the study of dispositional (e.g., Wang et al. 2017) or trait mindfulness (Brown et al. 2007) and mindful parenting (e.g., Parent et al. 2016). Dispositional mindfulness is an individual’s tendency or inner capacity to pay nonjudgmental attention to experiences and events occurring in the present moment (Brown and Ryan 2003). Research suggests that higher levels of dispositional mindfulness are associated with favorable outcomes, such as better emotion regulation (Baer et al. 2004; Pepping et al. 2013) and more effective coping strategies (Brown and Ryan 2003). In addition, a recent study reported that parents with higher levels of dispositional mindfulness are more likely to engage in mindful parenting with children (Parent et al. 2016). Mindful parenting consists of nonjudgmental and present-centered awareness during parent-child interactions (Bögels and Restifo 2014; Kabat-Zinn and Kabat-Zinn 1997). It involves listening to the child with full attention, maintaining an awareness of the child’s emotional experience, regulating one’s own emotions during the parenting process, maintaining a non-judgmental acceptance of parental functioning, and being compassionate both towards the child, as well as oneself (Duncan et al. 2009). Research has suggested that higher levels of dispositional mindfulness can increase the likelihood of parents’ engagement in mindful parenting behaviors (de Bruin et al. 2014; Parent et al. 2016). This may be due to mindful parents being better able to distinguish cognitive, affective, and behavioral experiences compared to their less mindful counterparts (Bishop et al. 2004), thus decreasing the likelihood of engaging in maladaptive interactions with children. Moreover, mindful parenting has been associated with more positive parenting practices (Bazzano et al. 2015; Bögels et al. 2013; Haydicky et al. 2015). During parent-child interactions, a mindful parent is more likely to be consistent with his/her values and goals (Duncan et al. 2009), non-judgmental, demonstrates present-moment awareness, and sensitive to the children’s needs. Thus, mindful parenting has been shown to be associated with lower levels of dysfunctional parenting styles (de Bruin et al. 2014). Parent et al. (2016) examined parents of children at varying developmental stages and reported similar results, suggesting that mindful parenting is directly related to higher levels of positive parenting practices (e.g., warmth and reinforcement) and lower levels of negative parenting practices (e.g., coercion or hostility). There is a substantial amount of literature establishing the relationship between parenting practices and child psychopathology in Western cultural contexts (Harold et al. 2012; Kawabata et al. 2011; Lindblom et al. 2017), with similar results in Eastern contexts (Baharudin et al. 2011; Lin et al. 2016). For instance, Chinese parents’ support for autonomy was associated with fewer depressive symptoms as reported by their middle-school-aged children (Yan et al. 2017). In addition, harsh parenting from fathers and mothers negatively contributed to children’s emotion regulation and peer aggression (Wang et al. 2017). However, little research has been conducted to delineate the processes through which dispositional mindfulness, mindful parenting, and parenting practices affect child psychopathology outside of Western cultures. This is an important area of exploration given the significant implications of early psychopathology for children’s long-term mental health, academic performance, and overall quality of life (e.g., Barkley et al. 2006; Yap and Jorm 2015). It has been suggested that over time all cultures derive unique concepts and values on effective parenting, and, therefore, the support for mindful parenting is likely to vary depending on cultural context (Smith and Dishion 2013). In addition, similar parenting practices may have varying effects on children of different cultures (Leung et al. 1998). For example, many researchers have argued that culture shapes how children’s emotional competence is defined and thus influences parenting behaviors, as well as child mental health outcomes (e.g., Friedlmeier et al. 2011). As such, it is of great importance to explore mindful parenting beyond Western cultures and to elucidate the process through which mindful parenting is associated with child outcomes in comparatively understudied cultural contexts (e.g., Chinese culture). Hofstede (1980) initially proposed the individualism-collectivism dimension to help describe the primary distinction between cultures, and this principle can be used to better understand parenting and the role of parenting in child adjustment beyond Western culture. In this context, Hofstede (1980) proposed that individualistic societies (e.g., the USA) value independence and tend to focus on the self, thus encouraging parenting practices (e.g., warmth) that foster children’s self-reliance. In contrast, collectivistic societies (e.g., China and India) emphasize interdependence and group harmony, thus encouraging parenting practices (e.g., training) that promote children’s obedience to group rules. Parents from individualistic and collectivistic cultures might adopt different parenting behaviors given the various and possibly divergent cultural norms and values related to these behaviors and the associated child outcomes. Little research has extended beyond the Western model of mindful parenting to explicitly discuss cultural issues pertaining to mindful parenting and related child outcomes; however, an emerging line of research has been conducted with Chinese parents that can help provide a foundation for this work. For example, Siu et al. (2016) found parental mindfulness had a negative indirect association on children’s emotional and behavioral problems through a series of positive factors related to the parent-child relationship. These emerging findings have been consistent across Western societies and suggest parents who mindfully interact with their children have higher quality relationships with their children than those who have less mindful interactions (Duncan et al. 2009). This, in turn, is related to greater psychological adjustment and fewer problem behaviors in children (Geurtzen et al. 2015; Parent et al. 2010; Williams and Wahler 2010). These findings across cultures might be explained by the recent proposition that while Chinese parenting is still largely influenced by traditional cultural values, a Western and child-centered approach has gradually been incorporated into contemporary Chinese parenting, particularly among more highly educated parents (Xu et al. 2014). Despite this preliminary evidence, studies have not delineated the processes through which parental mindfulness and parenting practices are associated with child outcomes using a large Chinese sample. Elucidating these processes with a Chinese sample will enable more nuanced research on the development and implementation of mindfulness-based program with Chinese families. Parent gender might also shape the processes by which parenting influences child psychopathology (Friedlmeier et al. 2011; Klimes-Dougan et al. 2010). For example, when compared to Western parents (both mothers and fathers) and Chinese mothers, Chinese fathers’ parenting practices (e.g., harsh parenting and physical control) are viewed as strong behavioral modeling for children, especially sons (Chen et al. 2000). Thus, it is important to consider the cultural expectations of mothers and fathers when examining the influence of parenting on their children. Furthermore, gender differences have only been evaluated in the Western context of mindful parenting (Gouveia et al. 2016; Medeiros et al. 2016). In these studies, mothers generally have shown higher level of mindful parenting compared to fathers (e.g., Gouveia et al. 2016), whereas fathers have displayed more supportive emotion socialization with children than mothers when they both participate in mindfulness programs (Coatsworth et al. 2015). The current study aimed to test the Parent et al. (2016) model of mindful parenting practices and child psychopathology with a large group of parents from Mainland China. The hypotheses of the current study take into consideration the potential impact of cultural context and parent gender (see Fig. 1). First, we hypothesized that parent dispositional mindfulness would be positively associated with mindful parenting and that mindful parenting would be associated with greater positive parenting practices and fewer negative parenting practices. Second, we hypothesized that positive parenting practices would be negatively associated with children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior, whereas negative parenting practices would be positively associated with children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior. Third, regarding the overall theoretical model, we hypothesized that parent dispositional mindfulness would have a negative indirect association with children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior through an increase in mindful parenting, resulting in positive parenting practices, as well as decreased negative parenting practices.

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