My daughter has this adorable thing she does where she stops what she is doing, gives me a huge hug, and says 'I love you' with her sweet 2-year-old voice. I melt like ice cream, and she smiles when I tell her I love her too, eating it all up like the little ham and cheese she is. I could do this hugging all day, I think. But could there be a downside to too much of that? Will that make my kids grow up to be arrogant? These are things I worry about, along with the big things, the small things. But taking away from my worry is this new study that says our love for our kids, and the affection we show them, helps build up the part of the brain that deals with stress, learning, and memory.
Excuse me while I go hug on my kids for a moment.
We all want smart kids who aren't stressed out, right? So here's what we have to do ...
Dote on them. Be nicer. Be happier. Yes, it seems to be that simple. But it's not always. How many times have you had to rush out of the house for something and you didn't have time to really appreciate your child's latest artistic creation? Oh gosh, this happens! How often have you missed a dance recital because you had to work late? Of course that's happened to everyone, too. But it's often unavoidable because sometimes responsibilities get in the way of us nurturing the family. The key is to not let it happen too much. (Let's hope bosses everywhere are reading this and allowing moms and dads to leave the office early so they can get to the recital on time!)
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This research came from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. It says that school-age children whose mothers, fathers, and caretakers "nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus," which is the part of the brain that aids in learning, memory, and your response to stress.
The author of the study, Joan L. Luby, M.D., says it best:
I think the public health implications suggest that we should pay more attention to parents’ nurturing, and we should do what we can as a society to foster these skills because clearly nurturing has a very, very big impact on later development.
What can we do as a society? Oh I can think of a lot of things. Let's start with better maternity leave, then add on paternity leave for fathers, then tack on some better work/life practices and balance. It's no easy feat, that's for sure. But I do think that by reducing a parent's stress levels, that parent could be more nurturing to their child. It's like giving us the tools to sort of "stop and smell the roses" kind of thing -- stop rushing around, take time for those little hugs even in the middle of doing something else, like my daughter gives. Of course we can't just wait for everyone else to help us reduce our parental stresses, we have to do it ourselves. Maybe try some yoga, meditation, breathing in and out to the count of 10 really slowly -- don't laugh, that works! It's what I do.
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Any changes we can do on our end to make the time to ... well, be nicer, to make time for more hugs, more kisses, more positive reinforcement, more praise for that art project. It will not only make our kids brains bigger and allow them to have better memories, less stress, and learn more, but make us as parents happier, too.
What positive changes will you make to help your child's brain grow?
Image via Pink Sherbert Photography/Flickr