What’s the Science to Good Parenting?

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It is no surprise that how a child is raised will impact their development and shape family dynamics. When a parent’s behavior is not supportive it creates an environment that alters the development of a child’s brain. Brain scans can now scientifically validate the importance of love and good parenting.

“Dysfunctional, irrational and destructive behavior patterns are literally programmed into a child’s brain,” says Marianna Klebanov, JD. She wrote Ten Serious Effects of Negative Parenting — and the Science Behind Them for Health News Digest. “It sets the stage for recurring issues throughout the child’s life.”    

Klebanov also co-authored The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development with Adam Travis, MD, Ph.D. She referenced various scientific studies in that book. Research from the Washington University School of Medicine shows that children of nurturing mothers have larger, healthier brains. In contrast, the hippocampi of neglected children were ten percent smaller than those of children with caring, loving mothers.

Why this is significant

The hippocampus is the region of our brains responsible for memory, stress control, and learning. It also impacts other cognitive functions. There is a correlation between effective parenting and a child’s development.

Scientific research has shown that the quality of parenting affects mental health. Various problems can cause childhood trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, attachment disorders, and developmental delays are a few. Inappropriate response and interaction in social situations and deviant behaviors in adolescence are others. These psychological issues can significantly impact the lives of children and their families. 

The Bad News

Childhood trauma can cause numerous physical illnesses. These disorders include cancer, obesity, heart disease, lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease. Studies have also proven that trauma can lead to inflammation and accelerated aging, chemical sensitivities and allergies, autoimmune diseases, and osteoarthritis. These links are not common knowledge. There is a wide range of holistic health care practitioners who work on the body to help facilitate healing the mind. Those practitioners include acupuncturists, massage therapists, and kundalini yoga teachers — to name just a few.

The quality of how a parent nurtures will impact the growth of their child’s brain. Research has also proven that kids who receive corporal punishment — including spanking— score lower on IQ tests and other tests measuring cognitive ability.

Emotional and social intelligence is also affected by childhood trauma. As a result, this can lead to relationship problems. These problems can limit educational advancement, accomplishment, and ultimately to success and self-actualization.

The Good News

But the good news is that there are many inexpensive or free resources and community support available for families. School guidance counselors, religious counseling services, and youth groups can help. Sports teams and parental support groups can also help families cope with the demands and challenges of effective child rearing.

The way a parent and a child relate provides the foundation for the quality of that child’s future relationships. When he experiences love and positive attachment behaviors from his parents he will be capable of building and sustaining healthy relationships in society. Unfortunately, if these dynamics are not in place within the family unit he may become too needy or attached, too critical, withdrawn, unreliable or inconsiderate.

Although developing healthy family relationships requires a consistent investment of time, diligence, sacrifice, and resources a family can reap the benefits of effective parenting for a lifetime.

Making Positive Changes

Implementing a family ritual as simple as planning and enjoying dinner together a few times weekly, planning bi-monthly visits to a local library or museum, or enjoying the seasonal exploration of surrounding nature trails or state parks will strengthen family ties while developing interests that can be shared for a lifetime.

Education has the potential to make a significant positive social impact, and the reduction of various forms of parental neglect and child abuse can lead to better physical health, more vibrant communities, and ultimately improve society.      

Career problems can often have their roots in childhood issues, especially between a father and son. The lack of education, a limiting factor to the advancement of a young adult, can be a consequence of arrested cognitive development caused by poor parenting.

If a father is unsupportive, overly critical, models destructive relationship and inadequate communication, these issues will be wired into his son’s brain. This can result in negative relationships, lack of respect in the workforce, limited upward mobility, and ultimately financial problems.

A father who invests time with his son cultivating interests such as music, literature, sports and appreciation for nature, art and philosophy will naturally become a role model and inspire his son’s pursuit of individuality and desire for self-actualization.

Joseph Cohen is the co-author of Write Father, Write Son: A Bond-Building Journey and  President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation