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Are You Having a Negative Impact on Your Child’s Development?

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” – or so the saying goes. She’s got you wrapped around her little finger. He’s running circles around you. And so on. But new studies show that the exact opposite to these old adages is true.

According to a body of research studying different approaches to parenting from a wide range of leading professors, current methods of parenting are negatively impacting child brain development. The research shows that practices such as putting the baby to sleep in another room, failing to respond to his needs immediately, feeding him artificial milk in place of breastfeeding, encouraging structured play in place of free play in nature, and reduced numbers of natural childbirth, are some of the core practices that are negatively impacting crucial brain development in babies. Emotional development in particular is being impeded.

So can the mainstream approach to childrearing in countries like the U.K. and the U.S. officially be considered as unnatural and unhealthy for our children?

From an evolutionary perspective the answer is yes. Society has changed in many ways since Neanderthal times, but a baby’s instincts have not. Babies would once have been carried by their caregivers in slings, breastfed on demand, weaned onto the same foods their parents ate, and exposed to almost constant touch from parents and other caregivers.

They were involved in family life rather than set apart from it. Particularly in the Western world, we have moved away from these ancestral parenting techniques, but our babies have not adapted to the changes. Today, exposing babies to frequent touch has been found to significantly reduce stress reactivity in their developing brains, as well as improving their impulse control and capacity to feel empathy.

Other studies have shown that touch dramatically reduces cortisol –  stress – levels in their brains. Babies who experience little touch have been found to have extremely stressed brains even when they haven’t shown any outward symptoms.

Today, babies are often transported from cots to high chairs to pushchairs to car seats, they sleep apart from their parents and consume artificial milks, and as a consequence of these behaviours they experience little physical contact with their caregivers compared to their instinctual needs.

As parenting styles have changed to incorporate less baby- or child-centred ways of living, on a deep level our little ones have not learned to relax and deal with stress as well as they would with the frequent touch and involvement in everyday activities that they have evolved to need.

It’s easy to see how the emotional development of new generations of children may be unintentionally impaired.

In light of this, researchers are now linking our cultural – and relatively new – parenting practices to problems in society such as delinquent behaviour and crime. In short, problems that indicate low levels of emotional development.

But there is good news. Researchers say that negative impacts can be altered if parenting styles are changed, even when the children are older. So it’s possible that toddlers who are struggling with emotional issues can still learn the essential life skills that they may be lacking, and belatedly forge the necessary links in their brains. For example, it is now understood that allowing free play in nature influences social capacities and levels of aggression in young children, and this is something we can still give to our children as they grow older, though it may mean tearing them away from the TV, PC, or latest games console…

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