A child’s brain and body are not fully developed at birth. Besides, food, water, and shelter, a child needs attuned relational care of another human being. Unfortunately, many parents are still clueless as to what a child needs for optimal development. In fact, some parenting behaviors that are outright harmful are still normalized in society. And thus another generation of damaged humans populate the planet.
Parenting is all about neuroplasticity. But neuroplasticity is a double-edged sword – a child’s brain adapts to a negative environment just as readily as it will adapt to a positive environment. Human beings are social animals and most learning happens via our relationships. Adverse experiences result in a negative impact on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth.
Very often parents think they are doing what is best but their best is not what the child really needs. Or the parent simply ignores what the child needs due to laziness, disinterest, their own childhood history, or are simply clueless that their actions have direct consequences.
Unfortunately, what happens in childhood remains with us for our lifetimes, Our brain gets dysfunctionally wired affecting our health and happiness.
SomeParenting Behaviors That Harm A Child’s Developing Brain:
1) Making a child sleep alone in a room as soon as it is born
Babies need to be close to their parents in order to feel safe. They need the touch and the warmth of their parents. Having skin-to-skin constant physical contact during the first few months calms the nervous system, organizes the biological clock, and helps the vagal tone develop.
2) Ignoring a crying child – Letting a baby cry it out
Leaving babies to cry releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which are toxic for a baby’s developing brain. Furthermore, neglecting a child impairs the proper development of the attachment and emotional centers of the brain.
Babies don’t know to self-soothe and you can’t tell them how to do it. They are totally dependent on their caregivers for comfort and co-regulation. What some people perceive as “self-soothing” is their brain going into freeze (dorsal vagal shutdown response), giving up on someone coming to help.
This means that the safe and secure brain pathway doesn’t get built. This deprivation causes serious mental and physical issues – anxiety, lack of trust, self-doubt, low confidence; even gut problems are linked to that sinking feeling that one is alone.
3) Pushing them to do things too soon
Pushing a child to do things before they are developmentally and emotionally ready, only does the opposite, making them anxious, insecure, and lacking confidence.
Parenting today has become hurried. We push them, make them do things before they are ready. Whether it is toilet training or making them walk or even learning. Instead of allowing them to play freely, we bring on aids that promise to turn our kids into little Einsteins,
But the truth is, most normal kids will do things as their brain develops. Some will walk earlier, while others will talk sooner. Stressing a child only leads to anxious and under-confident kids.
According to brain scientist and molecular biologist John Medina: “The more stress hormones swarm children’s brains, the less likely they are to succeed intellectually.”
4) Being Over-protective – Not allowing them to explore/fail
In this age of one or two kids, parents have more time and resources at their disposal. They are always around like helicopters and hoovers ready to catch a falling child. They don’t want them to struggle as they did.
But exploring, failing, and finding your ways around is what builds resilience and character. Allowing a child to explore, engage in new experiences and even fail helps build their brain neural circuits. This develops self-efficacy which is the innate belief in one’s capabilities to manage a situation and handle challenges.
Coddling and hover parenting lead to anxious, under-confident kids. There is a thin line between caring and coddling. Know when to step back and when to intervene.
5) Teasing kids in public
Parents especially need to be aware of how and when they tease their kids. Teasing can be a sign of affection, a constructive form of criticism, or a cruel put-down. But remember teasing could be the starter for more virulent bullying by others, particularly siblings.
Don’t tease your child in public, and never in front of his friends. What is said in private should stay private. And when a child tells you to stop, just stop. Don’t antagonize them with your insensitivity.
Even good-natured ribbing could lead to self-esteem issues.
I still cringe at the thought of my uncle’s insensitive teasing, ‘what a dirty dress you are wearing’. Till today I feel unsure of my attire when I go out.
Furthermore, the child becomes sneaky and violent. Later in life, they use violence to handle frustrations and inadequacies.
7) Making comparisons
Constantly comparing a child to other children, increases his anxiety and stress levels. Comparisons, particularly between siblings, are the main reason for sibling rivalry.
Comparisons breed anger, resentment, jealousy, and a feeling of not being good enough. It lowers a child’s self-esteem and he starts to believe that everybody is better than he is.
A child feels unsure of his place in the world. Additionally, he feels that he has to always win. This only leads to high levels of anxiety and other stress-related problems.
8) Always wanting them to win
If a child always ‘wins’, they’ll never learn how to cope when life does not go their way, The undue pressure of performance is most degrading for kids and produces a negative outcome.
Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Teaching kids about winning and losing early on will help them adjust and deal with life’s curveballs.
9) Treating your young child as your friend
Parents who treat their child as a friend do great harm to them. Being “buddies” may make it hard to enforce rules and discipline. Parenting is a job that requires an adult to be in control. Children need that stability. They need to feel that there is some out there who will protect and help them deal with difficult situations.
You cannot burden your child with your fears and inadequacies. A child’s brain is not developed to handle their own problems, so it is doubly damaging when you unload your shit onto them. Kids get stressed out by negative personal confessions. They feel they are responsible and have to help out and so a codependent comes into existence.
10) Fighting in front of kids and making them take sides
It is normal for parents to argue but there is a difference between constructive conflicts and vicious fighting. Fights between parents can affect a child mentally and emotionally.
Children as young as six months, when exposed to conflict may have increased heart rates and stress hormone responses. Living with severe or chronic inter-parental conflict disrupts early brain development causing sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, conduct disorder.
Domestic abuse and violence can be particularly damaging for the children involved. And making your child the referee of your slinging match is bad. Worse, don’t force your child to take sides.
Another terrible parenting tactic to discredit another parent by talking behind their back or when they are not around to defend themselves. This is confusing for a child.
The Right Condition To Flourish
A child’s brain needs the right conditions to mature and develop properly. It needs good, stable parenting. Parents that are aware and mindful of their words, actions, and behaviors.
Of course, life does always allow us to be perfect parents. We can get overwhelmed and inundated with burdens that may impair our parenting. But as long as you are aware and learn to repair the rupture in our caregiving our kids should be okay.