The Science Behind Good Parenting

There is more than just our intuition to support the belief that the parenting a child receives will significantly impact their personal development and shape family dynamics. Thanks to recent scientific research and detailed brain scans, we’ve learned the importance of good parenting.

When a parent’s behavior is not loving and supportive, it creates an environment that alters the development of a child’s brain.

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

Among a wide range of scientific studies that Klebanov referenced in The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development which she co-authored with Adam Travis, MD, Ph.D, 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 up to 10 percent smaller than those of children with caring, loving mothers.

Why is this so significant?

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

Mental Health

Scientific research has shown that the quality of parenting affects mental health, as childhood trauma can be linked to various problems including PTSD, attachment disorders, developmental delays, inappropriate response and interaction in social situations, and deviant behaviors in adolescence. These psychological issues can significantly impact the lives of children and their families.

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

Kids and Parents Bonding

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.

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 seasonal exploration of surrounding nature trails or state parks will strengthen family ties while developing interests that can be shared for a lifetime.

Physical Health

Numerous physical illnesses and disorders including cancer, obesity, heart disease, lung disease, skeletal fractures and liver disease have been scientifically linked to childhood trauma.

Studies have also proven that trauma can lead to inflammation and accelerated aging, chemical sensitivities and allergies, auto immune diseases, and osteoarthritis.

Although these links are not generally accepted public knowledge, there are a wide range of holistic health care practitioners like acupuncturists, massage therapists, and kundalini yoga teachers — to name just a few— who have for ages been working on the body to help facilitate healing the mind.

Intelligence and Education

While 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, and as a result lead to relationship problems that can limit educational advancement, accomplishment, and ultimately to success and self-actualization.

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.

Father and Son Relationships

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.

A strong father son relationship begins with a father’s willingness to engage his son in open communication and a son’s willingness to participation in the process.

This bond building process focuses on three essential questions:

Do you see me?  A good place for a father to begin is by acknowledging and praising a son’s recent accomplishments to validate his efforts and create a safe space to open meaningful dialogue.

Can You Hear Me?   The way to sustain a meaningful dialogue is by listening without judgement to develop a conversation for the purpose of identifying and clarifying the challenging issues.

What Can You Teach Me?  Building a child’s sense of security and trust that will grow over time is contingent upon a father providing constructive feedback that will help them gain a fresh perspective upon which both parent and child can act to reach a solution.

The letter my son wrote back to me in Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey at age twenty-one after receiving numerous letters from me for over a decade is one of many that demonstrates the value of this bond building process.

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