Abstract: Exploring Benefits of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention of Chinese Migrant Children Using Draw-and-Explain Technique (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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73P Exploring Benefits of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention of Chinese Migrant Children Using Draw-and-Explain Technique

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Xiaolu Dai, MSW, PHD Student, The University of Hong Kong
Shuang Lu, PhD, MSW, Research Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Research has shown that, compared with local counterparts, migrant children report a higher level of mental health problems due to migrant-related stressors such as experiences of discrimination, economic problems, and language barriers. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are increasingly demonstrating benefits for children’s well-being. Although research on MBIs with Chinese migrant children is limited, that which is available has shown significant effects in improving internalizing and externalizing problems.

Research contributing to the understanding of participant children's unique experiences related to MBIs can deepen our understanding of the processes of change. Drawings can represent a projective technique that perhaps reveals information that would not be elicited by asking direct questions. Empirical literature has established consistent correlations between features of children’s self-drawings and different facets of mental health. The present study attempts to understand the experience of Chinese migrant children who had participated in a mindfulness group by observing changes in their self-drawings.


Twenty-nine children (aged 9-12) who actively participated in a 12-week MBI were nominated by instructors to take part in an individual interview after the intervention. During the interview, research assistants asked children drew themselves the way they think they were before the intervention and the way they are now (after the intervention). Once the children finished drawing, they were asked to describe their pictures.

A priori coding scheme was adapted from a previous study, which has been applied to explore impact of a poverty program. Out of these indicators, nine were categorized as positive/negative indicators for emotional distress (ED), five were categorized as indicators for interpersonal relationship (IP), and four were categorized as indicators for self-esteem (SE). Each drawing indicator was coded as a dummy variable: a code of 1 if the positive indicator is present, a code of -1 if the negative indicator is present, and a code of 0 if the indicator is absent. The paired t-test was used to compare the differences of observed indicators in the before and after intervention drawings.


In the drawings of the whole sample (N = 58), 10 drawings depicted children’s head, 26 drawings depicted a full body, 22 children depicted interactions with friends/family. Paired t-test indicated significant improvements in children’s emotional distress (t = 2.94, p = 0.007) and interpersonal relationship (t = 6.43, p < 0.001) after the intervention. However, there is no significant differences on self-esteem (t = 0.57, p = 0.573) after the intervention. Specifically, two ED indicators improved after the intervention, including crying (t = 2.25, p = 0.032) and smiling (t = 4.69, p < 0.001). Four IP indicators improved after the intervention, including symbol of aggressive (t = 4.4, p < 0.001), negative actions (t = 3.27, p = 0.003), positive actions (t = 4.77, p < 0.001), and missing hand (t = 2.12, p = 0.043).


By comparing the retrospective self-drawings to self-drawings at the termination of intervention, the present study revealed that MBI show promising effects in improving emotional distress and interpersonal relationship among Chinese migrant children.