Parent Bonding and Child's Mental Health
Making the most out of bath time and encouraging water sensory play is one of the best bonding activities for kids and parents. - Furthermore, our primary color Kids Bath Bombs and Sprinkles are the ideal STEM activity for teaching your child colors.
Imagine if parents' hugs, kisses, smiles, and play could inoculate children from adolescent angst and anxiety, mental health issues, and bad relationships. Well, evidence from several branches of science suggests that this is actually a reality.
The human brain is a complicated organ with over 100 billion brain cells connected to each other. In the first 3 years of a child's life, the brain forms connections and circuitry at a rate of 700-1000 synapse connections per second. In fact, the brain reaches 90% growth by age 3, meaning almost everything a person needs to learn happens at this tender age.
Knowing that, you can see why the child’s primary caregiver or parent has the most important role in a child’s brain development. The interactions and experiences a baby has with her caregivers between birth and age 3 are crucial to the early wiring and connections in the brain. Those repeated interactions and communication lead to the laying down of pathways that form memories and relationships, as well as the development of learning and logic.
Here is where things get thick- if positive experiences do not occur, the pathways needed for normal human behavior and growth are lost or never formed. Science calls this the 'use it or lose it’ principle. For example, several case studies show that children who grew up with minimal human contact (love, attention, touch) show a severe lack of language and emotional development.
Unfortunately, negative experiences in childhood can also help form negative synapse connections in the brain, but we will get to that shortly.
To summarize all that, parenting or parental bonding in the first three years of a child’s life affects their;
- Emotional development
- Cognitive development
- Mental health
Let's get to the meat of it now.
Why is Parental Bonding Important for Emotional Development?
Emotional development is the ability to acknowledge, express, and manage feelings at every stage of life and also have empathy for the feelings of others. However, it also involves the ability to handle things that happen to you in life in an emotionally mature way. For instance, kids learn to share toys with new siblings, take discipline and handle bullies at school without resulting in violence or breaking down.
Indeed, even if it's normal for humans to crave love from their parents and other people, a person's ability to maintain healthy relationships in life is significantly impaired if they have an insecure attachment to their primary caregiver. Relationship skills and managing feelings are things you intrinsically learn as a baby from your caregiver because they played with you, touched you lovingly, laughed with you, and expressed their feelings towards you verbally and physically.
As a result, you learn to consider the feelings of others, to express emotions or tackle things head-on instead of retreating, and to be emotionally strong.
Parental Bonding and Mental Health
The 21st century has seen more cases of depression, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder than any other time in history. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has it that 20% of U.S adults and 17% of children ages 6 to 17 suffer a mental illness or mental health disorder. Contributing factors to this rise include changes in family life (divorce, death), technology, stressful economic times, and poor parental bonding.
How does parenting cause mental illness? Three ways;
1. Insecure attachment
One study has reported the following pathology in kids who either suffered neglect or insecure attachment in their early years;
- Increased sensitivity in the limbic system, leading to anxiety disorders.
- Reduced growth in the left hemisphere which increases the risk of depression.
- Reduced growth in the hippocampus, contributing to learning and memory impairment.
When researchers studied kids adopted from Romanian orphanages, they found that 69% of kids adopted before the age of 6 months, 43% of those adopted between months 7 and 2 years, and 22% of kids adopted between 2 and 3 years were functioning normally. This shows that a child's mental and emotional well-being declines the more they stay away from intimate parental nurturing and bonding.
In other words, separating a child from their mother or father at a tender age affects their long-term mental health. But it's not just physical separation that does; parents who are there physically but not spending quality time showing the child love and attention also cause the child to suffer mentally and emotionally. This is common with kids whose parents are always working, busy, or emotionally unavailable, so the child is raised 100% by nannies.
2. A parent's mental illness
But that’s not all. The caregiver’s state of mind also plays a role in their child’s mental health. Reports from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry show that parental mental illness elevates the child’s risk of developing a mental illness, and when both parents are mentally ill, the child’s risk goes up even higher.
This included mild instances of depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia, and even drug and alcohol abuse. A child whose parent suffers from these mental health challenges before and after birth is 4 times more likely to develop a psychiatric breakdown.
Yes, studies have been conducted to prove that babies and toddlers do indeed feel their parent's stress. Not only do they feel it, it also affects them and makes the child feel afraid and unsafe. When the primary caregiver is in a highly stressful situation caused by domestic violence, poverty, job loss, trauma, and other things, they transmit this stress and anxiety to the baby.
High levels of toxic stress also trigger a higher cortisol production in babies, which will lead to anxiety and behavioral problems now or later in life. In extreme cases, such as when the baby is witnessing abuse, the brain can stop growing as it should.
Another side of parental stress we rarely talk about is reactions. Parents under extreme pressure tend to take out their stress on the people around them and show less affection. You will find such a parent yelling at their baby often for minor things expected of babies. This lack of affection and outbursts of emotions and anger form connections in a baby's brain that they are hated, bad, and unwanted, which lead to behavioral issues.
So, what does stress and anxiety look like in a 2 and 3-year-old?
Well, in the absence of words, you will notice a child is stressed and anxious because of;
- Change in sleep and eating habits (sleep more or less and lack appetite).
- Change in emotions such as withdrawing, being clingy, crying too much and often, and outbursts of anger.
- Nightmares, irrational fears during bedtime, and bedwetting
- Frequent reliance on anxious tics and habits like hair chewing and thumb sucking.
- Frequent ailments because stress lowers a child’s immunity.
Although these symptoms indicate stress and anxiety in children, toddlers can also demonstrate the same with behavioral issues such as;
- Throwing tantrums and throwing things.
- Breaking things or intentionally doing bad stuff.
- Rudeness and defiance.
- Hurting other people with kicks and biting, especially other children.
- Excessive anger.
These are all a cry for help. The child wants attention and the affection they have been lacking. They also need the parent to reassure them that they are safe and loved and wanted.
If the parent doesn't step up and rectify the situation, the child learns to live without that affection and concludes they are bad, unloved, and unworthy. This triggers a pattern of behavioral problems, self-esteem issues, mental health challenges, and emotional instability.
How does a young child's mental health affect their future development and future mental health?
Unfortunately, a child’s mental health will deteriorate if nothing is done and if the conditions that led to it do not change. According to Harvard Education, however, most potential mental health problems can be avoided if parents respond to them early. For example, if a child starts showing signs of stress, anxiety, and behavioral problems, step up and counter with love, affection, regulation, and nurturing.
Role of Parents in Optimizing a Child's Mental and Emotional Health
The role of a parent is simple; provide, protect and love. While providing requires money, the other two will mostly be taken care of with consistent and intentional parental bonding. The key word here is intentional. You must wake up every day and be deliberate about bonding with your baby through activities and experiences you share together.
One such activity is bath time. Instead of quickly cleaning the baby and changing them, use that time to spend quality time and bond with your baby. This is a time to have chats, play together with water, and tell the baby you love them.
You can make the bathing experience much more fun and memorable by using bath items like these kids' bath bombs which come in different colors and fragrances. The bombs create fizz and vivid colors in the water, revitalizing your senses with scent and refreshing the skin. The time you spend playing, learning and elevating senses in the bathtub together will be unforgettable emotionally, even if they forget it mentally.
Other ways to optimize a child’s mental health and put them in a position to succeed include;
1. Creating a warm and loving home
Children need to feel safety and warmth in their homes. create an environment that's full of love, play, warmth and laughter. If the couple has disagreements, solve them away from the child.
Structure and Discipline
Children also require structure and guidance as they grow. Talk to them about what's expected of them, and explain the rules and the consequences of not following them. This should be done lovingly without yelling, violence and abuse.
Connections between people start with listening to each other. Spend time with the child listening to their stories, complaints, wants and needs, acknowledge their feelings, and reassure them that you have heard and will help them with anything. By listening, understanding and empathizing, you build trust and mutual respect.
Again, play is crucial to healthy child development. Play bonds parents and their kids emotionally, creates an avenue for physical touch, and makes for a relaxed environment where the child can just be free to enjoy the parent's presence. Play also demonstrates to the child that you have time for them, and they are important. Besides playing ball, tickling and tackling each other on the floor, parents can also read interesting books or watch cartoons with the kid. It’s all part of play and bonding.
The takeaway from all this is that parenting is not about buying your child toys, giving them a good house, and taking them to the best schools. These are all good, but they rarely contribute to the child's mental, emotional and cognitive development. What children need most from you is quality time, a lot of love and affection, playing, structure and reliability. They need to feel safe, warmth, and love from you every day.