Brain Development in Children Directly Impacted by Parenting Technique
Infancy and early childhood is a critical time for the development of a healthy brain as well as positive emotional development. It is the role of the parents to ensure that their babies grow up to be healthy, functioning members of society. However, a new study from the University of Notre Dame claims that social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing the healthy development of children. Traditional methods of nurturing, having been passed down from our hunter-gatherer days, are being neglected for more stereotypically modern childbearing norms to the detriment of the youth of America.
"Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago," says Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development. "Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it."
According to the researchers, responding to the baby’s needs rather than letting them cry it out can more positively influence the development of conscience. Likewise, more positive touching and holding can affect stress reactivity, impulse control, and empathy. Allowing the child to play freely in nature can positively influence social capacities and aggression. Furthermore, having a set of supportive caregivers (not just the mother) can benefit IQ, ego resilience, empathy.
Stereotypical modern caregiving (by no means practiced by everyone) does not emphasize these previously mentioned characteristics. For example, babies spend more time in carriers, car seats, and strollers rather than being held now than in the past. Only 15 percent of mothers breastfeed their babies after 12 months. Extended families have become more spread out, so having a set of caregivers is much more difficult. Finally, parents are allowing much less free play in recent decades.
The result, according to Narvaez, is an epidemic of anxiety and depression for all age groups including young children. There is more aggressive behavior and delinquency, and decreased empathy.
However, all is not lost. Early deficits in brain and emotional development can be made up later in life. "The right brain, which governs much of our self-regulation, creativity and empathy, can grow throughout life. The right brain grows though full-body experience like rough-and-tumble play, dancing or freelance artistic creation. So at any point, a parent can take up a creative activity with a child and they can grow together."
For more information on Darcia Narvaez's research, go to Psychology Today
Crying Baby image via Shutterstock