Programs focused on positive interaction and nurturing need to be implemented as part of the Multidisciplinary Support for Families. Some of the strongest evidence available on the efficacy of parenting behavior in fostering positive developmental outcomes comes from evaluations of interventions focused on parenting. Why does responsiveness matter?
Juggling the demands of work, home, and other responsibilities leaves many parents feeling like they do not have nearly enough time with their children. But even small acts of kindness, protection, and caring—a hug, a smile, or loving words—make a big difference to children. Research shows that babies who receive affection and nurturing from their parents (a relational-level protective factor) have the best chance of developing into children, teens, and adults who are happy, healthy, and possess individual-level protective factors, such as relational, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills. Research also shows that a consistent relationship with caring adults in the early years of life is associated with better grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions, and an increased ability to cope with stress later in life.
Infant brains develop best when a few stable caregivers work to understand and meet the infant’s need for love, affection, and stimulation. Conversely, neglectful and abusive parenting can have a negative effect on brain development. A lack of contact or interaction with a caregiver can change the infant’s body chemistry, resulting in a reduction in the growth hormones essential for brain and heart development. Furthermore, children who lack early emotional attachments will have a difficult time relating to peers.
As children grow, nurturing by parents and other caregivers remains important for healthy physical and emotional development. Parents nurture their older children by making time to listen to them, being involved and interested in the child’s school and other activities, staying aware of the child or teen’s interests and friends, and being willing to advocate for the child when necessary.
Virtually all infants develop close emotional bonds, or attachments, to those who regularly care for them in the early years of life. These early attachments constitute a deeply rooted motivational system that ensures close contact between babies and adult caregivers who can protect, nurture, and guide their development. Indeed, the infant appears to be so strongly motivated and prepared to develop attachments to one or more caregivers that, given the opportunity to interact regularly with even a modestly responsive caregiver, he or she will develop an emotional tie to that person. Without that interaction will derail babies development. 1
How Some Programs Can Help
• Use parent education strategies (workshops, lending libraries) as opportunities to share information about how a strong parent-child bond enhances brain development and supports positive behavior in young children.
• Share resources available from your agency and throughout the community on how parents can nurture and connect with their children at every age.
Engage and include all important adults in a child’s life, including fathers, grandparents, and extended family, as part of a child’s “nurturing network.”
• Acknowledge cultural differences in how parents and children show affection.
• Recognize that when a child consistently does not show a positive response to the parent (for example, due to an emotional, developmental, or behavioral disability), the parent may need additional support.