, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp 1203–1213 | Cite as

Parenting an Early Adolescent: a Pilot Study Examining Neural and Relationship Quality Changes of a Mindfulness Intervention

  • Lisa M. MayEmail author
  • Mora A. Reinka
  • Jessica M. Tipsord
  • Joshua C. Felver
  • Elliot T. Berkman


Relating to adolescent children can be challenging for parents, and yet children’s perceptions of positive parent–child relationships are protective against deleterious outcomes. Therefore, it is valuable to understand and explore strategies that can support positive parent–adolescent relationships during adolescence. The present study investigates the effects of mindfulness training on parents’ neural activity, children’s perceptions of the parent–child relationship, and the relationship between the two. As such, this design allowed us to investigate intervention-induced changes in the parent–child relationship. One parent per family (N = 18) completed a task measuring mindful awareness of breathing during functional magnetic resonance imaging before and after attending an 8-week Mindful Families Stress Reduction (MFSR) course with their early-adolescent children. Across the sample, parent neural activation from pre- to post-intervention increased in areas related to self-awareness and evaluation (precuneus, ventromedial prefrontal cortex), emotional awareness and interoception (mid-insula), and emotion regulation (lateral prefrontal cortex). Changes in parents’ activation in the left anterior insula/inferior frontal gyrus, an area often related to empathy and emotional processing/regulation, were specifically related to changes in children’s reports of the parent–child relationship. The neural regions showing an intervention effect overlapped to a significantly greater degree with emotion regulation-related than attention-related regions. These findings implicate parental empathy and emotion/regulation in children’s perceptions of the family relationship and suggest that parent emotion and/or emotion regulation is a potential mechanism by which mindful parenting interventions affect change.


Parenting Mindfulness Parent–child relationship Attention Emotion regulation 



This work was supported by the University of Oregon faculty research funds and by a Varela award from the Mind and Life Institute, 2009-01-016. Magnetic resonance imaging was performed at the Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging at the University of Oregon. The authors thank Kristen Reinhardt, Alice Graham, and Shannon Peake for comments on earlier drafts, Jolinda Smith for her guidance in sequence selection, Scott Watrous and Chuck Theobold for their assistance in image acquisition, and the Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Oregon.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This work was supported by a Varela award from the Mind and Life Institute, 2009-01-016.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

12671_2016_563_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (63 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 63 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa M. May
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mora A. Reinka
    • 2
  • Jessica M. Tipsord
    • 3
  • Joshua C. Felver
    • 4
  • Elliot T. Berkman
    • 5
  1. 1.Institute of Neuroscience and Department of BiologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  3. 3.Oregon Health and Science UniversityPortlandUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologySyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychology and Center for Translational NeuroscienceUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA

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