Mindfulness, Behavior and Stress

Project Category: Preparing a Highly Qualified 0-3 Workforce 

Donna Greene, MA
Faculty, Department of Early Childhood Education
College of the Desert

Introduction: The purpose of this project was to conduct a pilot study of the impact of parent and caregiver stress on children’s behavior. The impact of stress on brain architecture has been thoroughly documented. Children who spend long hours in child care experience stress as part of their daily routines. Getting up, getting to school, transitioning from home to school and back again are all stressful events for young children. Children and caregivers experience long days together in rooms with many children, not an ideal place for optimal brain development. In fact, according to Dr. Bruce Perry, child care ratios cannot help but be detrimental for children as they need much more attention than they can get in a classroom with even 1 adult for every 4 children. Under these conditions, even the most loving parents and caregivers are stressed and their stress may have an effect on children’s behaviors.

Many studies have been conducted using meditation for parents of children who are chronically ill and for parents of children who have developmental delays. These studies recognize that parents dealing with children in less than optimal conditions are under stress and that stress has an effect on the child.  In all studies conducted parents stress was mediated when they practiced meditation and had increased social support.

Methods: This pilot study was conducted at College of the Desert McCarthy Family Child Development and Training Center in Palm Desert, CA. Parents and caregivers were recruited in April of 2015 for a two-hour seminar about the impact of stress on the child’s brain and ways to mediate that stress. A flyer was posted in the lobby of the Center and Center caregivers attended as part of their in-service training and as a result 7 parents and 8 caregivers participated in the seminar. During the seminar parents and caregivers were shown a presentation that explained the impact of stress on children and were provided with samples of guided meditation and ways to slow down the pace of everyday life for the children. For example, to assist with social support, parents and caregivers were able to “opt in” to a daily reminder text sent each evening. The reminder text included messages to slow down, breathe, and find a few minutes to relax. Parents were encouraged to meditate with their child for five minutes each evening around 5:00 pm. Caregivers were encouraged to meditate with the classroom each morning just after breakfast.

In order to gauge the stress level of the parents and caregivers, each adult completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) before the presentation. Children’s behavior in the classroom was rated by the classroom teachers using the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP). The DRDP is a comprehensive assessment tool used in the state of California to provide assessment of children’s development in all developmental domains. There are eight domains of the DRDP, for the purposes of this study, children’s ratings in two areas were used, as follows:

Approaches to Learning- Self-Regulation, which includes attention maintenance, engagement and persistence, and curiosity and initiative, self-comforting, self-control of feelings, and behavior, imitation, and shared use of space and materials; and

Social and Emotional Development, which includes, identity of self in relation to others, social and emotional understanding, relationships and social interactions with familiar adults, relationships and interactions with peers, and symbolic and sociodramatic play.

Each of these measures were averaged and each child was assigned a non-numeric score on a developmental continuum. Each classroom is assigned an average score as well. Children’s scores were compared to both the classroom averages and the expected average for a child of their age. Classroom overall ratings were compared with expected averages for children in that age group.

Results: Results of the study showed that children whose caregivers and parents were highly stressed were delayed in both their social-emotional development and in their self-regulation. When both the caregivers and the parents were highly stressed, the effect was magnified. For caregivers who scored high on the stress scale, their classroom averages were lower than expected for children of that age. Infants and toddlers are at critical stages of brain development. It is imperative that caregivers and parents understand that their stress has a detrimental effect on the children they care for.

Discussion: This was a very small pilot study and the timing of the study was towards the end of the academic school year. Further research should be conducted with a larger cohort of parents and caregivers, over a longer period of time. Using a developmental approach, caregivers and parents could learn stress-reduction techniques with initial baseline measure and a post-test along with monthly meetings for social support.

Donna Greene, College of the Desert
43500 Monterey Ave.
Palm Desert, CA 92260


California Department of Education, Early Education and Support Division. (2015). Desired Results Developmental Profile. www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/ci/drdpforms.asp

The PSS Scale is reprinted with permission of the American Sociological Association, from Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., and Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 386-396 retrieved from : https://www.mindgarden.com/documents/PerceivedStressScale.pdf