Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How mother’s love changes the brain of children

mother child

Most parents are aware that teaching their children certain values help them become successful adults. Many are also concerned to give them a good education, making sure that their children get good grades at school and, if necessary, enroll them even in extracurricular activities.

Of course, there is no doubt that early stimulation of cognitive abilities will determine the mental flexibility or rigidity that the child will develop in the future, and his ability to solve problems. But there is one factor that we left out of the equation: love.

Only love makes wonders

A study at the University of Washington revealed for the first time, with definitive evidence, that love is essential not only for the happiness of children and their emotional balance, but also for the growth of their brain. The more we love children, hug them, kiss and smile to them, the greater will be their brain.

In fact, everything seems to indicate that human brain was designed to receive love, and needs it almost as much as new stimuli. In this regard it was found that the affection of the mother stimulates the growth of an area of ​​the brain critical for learning and stress response: the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain essential for memory, in fact, it is involved in formation of new memories. It also plays an important role in learning and stress response. In addition, it is also part of the limbic system, helping to regulate emotions. These neuroscientists have found that in children whose mothers give them love and support, the volume of the hippocampus is higher by almost 10% compared to children whose mothers are emotionally distant.

The study involved 92 children who were followed for seven years. During this period the researchers observed how parents related with their children (although it should be underlined that 97% of the sample was made up of mothers). At the beginning children were 6 years old, when the study ended they were already 13.

During this period, the researchers designed several activities to check carefully as mothers related with their children. For example, in one of these was asked to children to wait eight minutes before opening a gift that had been pulled over.

While waiting, researchers took note of support strategies used by mothers to encourage their children to be patient and control their impulses. The most loving mothers were closer and empathetic, trying to comfort the child and explained why he had to wait. In contrast, the others were emotionally distant, in some cases forcing the children to simply wait long enough or showed indifferent.

At the age of 13 these children underwent MRI to evaluate the size of certain brain structures. Thus it was noted that motherly support and love was a good predictor of the size of the hippocampus. Conversely, children with emotionally distant mothers had a smaller hippocampus.

The study also showed that children who received more support and love from their mothers performed better in tests of emotional understanding, verbal skills and social skills. The researchers explained that when a child feels loved and protected, will establish a secure bond that allows him to develop the necessary tools to face the challenges of life.

5 tips to make your child develop a secure bond

1. Be sensitive when he’s playing a game. A study conducted at the Children's Hospital of New York, found that when mothers show themselves insensitive or controlling too much during the games, children often develop a weak and insecure bond. In contrast, when mothers are sensitive to the interests and needs of children during their games, they develop a secure bond. So make sure you understand and encourage the interests of your child whn he’s playing.

2. Understand the emotional feelings of your child. A research conducted at the University of Staffordshire has shown that children who develop a secure bond are those whose mothers are able to understand their emotional feelings from an early age and meet their needs. In fact, when children feel included and their emotions are recognized, they feel safe and are able to develop a healthy self-confidence and good self-esteem.

3. Having more physical contact. An experiment conducted by Columbia University researchers found that physical contact is important to develop a secure bond. In this study, the researchers compared children who spent much time in a cradle or a stroller with others who were often in their parents' arms. Children who maintained a greater physical contact with their parents developed a secure bond at the age of 13 months.

4. Being emotionally available. A study conducted at the University of Haifa has found a very strong link between a secure bond and emotional availability of parents. In practice, if parents are willing to talk about their emotions and support their children when they need it, children are more likely to develop a secure bond. No doubt, the simple fact of knowing that they have someone to turn to gives children the confidence to explore, make mistakes and start over, which are the basis of learning.

5. Showing sensitive to childhood stress. Many parents minimize the problems of children because think that they are not important. However, a study conducted at the University of Illinois found that the sensitivity to childhood stress is crucial for children to develop a secure bond. During the study were followed children from 6 months up to 15 months of age and was found that when mothers responded quickly to signs of stress, such as crying, children felt safe and secure. Therefore, do not let your child cry, listen to his requests when he needs it.

And, of course, the final advice: love them so much, love them unconditionally.

Luby, J. L. et. Al. (2012) Maternal support in early childhood predicts larger hippocampal volumes at school age. Journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; 109(8): 2854–2859.
Leuner, B. & Gould, E. (2010) Structural Plasticity and Hippocampal Function. Annu Rev Psychol; 61: 111–140.
Fuertes, M. et. Al. (2006) More than maternal sensitivity shapes attachment: infant coping and temperament. Ann N Y Acad Sci; 1094: 292-296. 
McElwain, N. L. & Booth-Laforce, C. (2006) Maternal sensitivity to infant distress and nondistress as predictors of infant-mother attachment security. J Fam Psychol; 20(2): 247-255. 
Meins, E. et. Al. (2001) Rethinking maternal sensitivity: Mothers’ comments on infants’ mental processes predict security of attachment at 12 months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Discipline; 42: 637-648.
Ziv, Y. et. Al. (2000) Emotional availability in the mother-infant dyad as related to the quality of infant-mother attachment relationship. Attach Hum Dev; 2(2): 149-169. 
Anisfeld, E. et. Al. (1990) Does infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment. Child Dev; 61(5):1617-1627.


Keep feeding your neurons

How mother’s love changes the brain of children

Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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