The Neuroscientific Link Between Parents and Children

Happy young couple having fun with cute toddler son on floor in modern living room. bonding together, enjoying love and happiness at home.

Research is very clear that childhood adversity has a significant effect on the mental health of adults. Caring for children early in life should be one of our most important priorities as parents and educators. Of course, the primary caregivers of children at early ages are parents.

It is logical that healthy parents will create healthy children. However, this is more than just eating well or exercising. It also includes the health of their brain development and regulation.  This truth is clearly defined in an article in Child and Family Blog written by Nim Tottenham.  Here are some excerpts from this article:

Early emotional experiences leave children with much more than memories. Neuroscience suggests how these experiences can literally shape the ways in which children – and the adults they become – think. These early experiences contribute to the development of the biological mechanisms that process and interpret past and future experiences. They can influence brain circuitry that makes meaning from what has happened and predictions for what happens next, sometimes throughout children’s lives.

These insights from neuroscience place parents – not only their actions but also their well-being — at the heart of children’s brain development for two reasons.

First, parents are usually the source of their children’s earliest experiences and those who are likely to influence brain development. The nature of this relationship highlights the importance of understanding these experiences.

Portrait of african american father carrying daughter child on his shoulders smiling and having fun in park.

Second, parents also provide a buffer between the world and young children’s brain development. If parents can manage the stresses the world throws at them, then children may learn how to manage challenges better. Children are also more likely to be protected from biological responses to adverse events. In contrast, when parents are overtaxed and have difficulty regulating themselves, children may be more vulnerable to external stressors.

This understanding of how moms and dads influence children’s brain development makes a fresh and compelling case for supporting parenting. It also demands action to help ensure that parents are supported and buffered. It means that, if we care about children, then we as a society should care a lot for their parents.

This article cites the conclusions of neuroscientists who have done research on how parents impact children neurologically. Here is the link for your further research and discovery.

It is intuitive that neurologically intact parents will parent more effectively. However, we as a society have not supported parents very well by giving them the tools for parenting and emphasizing the need to care for their own health and neurological regulation. This idea of preventing child adversity by providing support for parents is something that we all should be caring about in our society. I believe this will demand that we create new ways for parents to be encouraged for self-care and healthy brain regulation through training and support.

Gerry Vassar


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