Researchers have long known that your childhood and childhood experiences play an important role in shaping your brain and shaping your behavior as an adult. But it was difficult to understand why.
For the past 15 years, my team and I have been studying children’s brain development to determine how early life experiences affect brain development. In a recent article that summarized many of our studies on animals and humans, we found that unexpected or inconsistent parental behavior can interfere with a child’s emotional development. This can lead to the child’s mental illness and the risk of drug use later on.
Forecasting and consistency
To solve the problem of determining which signals affect the brain’s emotional systems, we took examples of how the brain’s sensory systems, such as sight and hearing, evolve.
Environmental signals are important for sensory development. For example, if a baby is unable to see because of severe laziness, they may lose their eyesight for the rest of their lives. Similarly, a baby who is unable to distinguish patterns and patterns of daily sounds due to frequent ear infections may have lifelong hearing problems.
Since parents are often the main source of information received from the environment of the infant and young child, we thought that parental signals would be crucial for brain development.
Decades of previous research have shown that the caregiver’s behavior and how it responds to the child’s needs are important for the child’s emotional development. Lack of responses, such as indifference, is associated with the risk of emotional problems later in life.
While many studies have focused on the effects of “positive” or “negative” parental behavior on a child’s brain development, researchers have paid little attention to behavioral patterns or parental predictions and consistency.
Proactive and consistent parents respond in the same way to new situations, such as when a child falls easily or asks for a new toy. In the long run, the child knows who will pick them up from school and when they can expect lunch, dinner, or bedtime.
We first studied mice and rats in order to control the attitude of mothers towards puppies by limiting the amount of material available in the environment for this building and changing their activity towards their offspring. We then conducted a human study to find out how mothers behave in structured play sessions and how their patterns of behavior affect their children’s emotional and cognitive development.
To quantify the behavior of mothers in these sessions, we measured the degree to which one behavior predicts the next. For example, a mother can show her child a toy, talk to him, and predict how much he will carry. We also monitored other aspects of parenting and the environment, such as the socio-economic situation. We assessed children’s tests and puppy development by conducting cognitive and emotional as well as behavioral questionnaires for children.
In all our studies of animals and humans, we found that predictable parental behavior later led to emotional and cognitive development in their children. Although our research focuses on mothers, the same principles may apply to fathers.
Ensuring the growth of your child’s brain
Our findings show that the parental approach to child development is not just “positive” or “negative”. For a child’s emotional brain to develop, it is important that parents raise him in a predictable and consistent manner.
In addition to parental control, there are many challenges, such as poverty, war, and migration, that can affect a developing child. However, knowing the role of predictable and consistent behavior in brain development can help parents create the optimal conditions for their child’s emotional growth.
Tally Z. Baram, Professor of Pediatrics, Anatomy and Neurobiology, Neurology, Physiology and Biophysics, Neurology, University of California, Irvine.
This article was republished in The Conversation magazine under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.