Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Importance of Mothering

Images of the brains of two three-year-old children clearly showing the effects of neglect 

It’s all in the brain. Neurologists have long known that brains do not just develop naturally and independently. A child’s brain develops best when the child has constant interaction with his mother. When a child is neglected by his mother his brain circuits will not develop. Once they fail to develop they will never develop. For lack of the proper stimulation his brain will be damaged for life. 

The London Daily Telegraph describes the radical difference between the brain of a three year old who has been properly nurtured and one who has been neglected:

The brain on the right lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left. Those deficits make it impossible for that child to develop capacities that the child on the left will have: the child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathise with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left. The child on the right is much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on welfare, and to develop mental and other serious health problems.

The way mothers care for their children is the decisive factor:

The primary cause of the extraordinary difference between the brains of these two three-year-old children is the way they were treated by their mothers. The child with the much more fully developed brain was cherished by its mother, who was constantly and fully responsive to her baby.

The child with the shrivelled brain was neglected and abused. That difference in treatment explains why one child’s brain develops fully, and the other’s does not.

Note the fact that an infant needs constant attention, constant interaction and a mother who is fully responsive to her child. Do you think that even the best day care can suffice?

Neurologists have studied the problem extensively:

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, who has surveyed the scientific literature and has made significant contributions to it, stresses that the growth of brain cells is a “consequence of an infant’s interaction with the main caregiver [usually the mother]”.

The growth of the baby’s brain “literally requires positive interaction between mother and infant. The development of cerebral circuits depends on it.”

Prof Schore points out that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, the genes for various aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot operate, and may not even come into existence. Nature and nurture cannot be disentangled: the genes a baby has will be profoundly affected by the way it is treated.

And also,

Suffice it to say that there is now a very substantial body of evidence that shows that the way a baby is treated in the first two years determines whether or not the resulting adult has a fully functioning brain.

Most importantly, if the brain cells have not developed in early childhood they will never develop:

Eighty per cent of brain cells that a person will ever have are manufactured during the first two years after birth. If the process of building brain cells and connections between them goes wrong, the deficits are permanent.

This means that rehabilitation programs do not and cannot work:

The second persistent feature is the dismal failure of rehabilitation programmes that aim to diminish the rate at which persistent young offenders commit crimes. Many different approaches have been tried, from intensive supervision to taking young offenders on safaris, but none has worked reliably or effectively. Recent research indicates that a large majority – perhaps more than three quarters – of persistent young offenders have brains that have not developed properly.

The only effective way to address the problem involves teaching mothers how to interact with their children.

The article notes:

There is a way to break the cycle, and it is not terribly difficult to achieve. It consists in intervening early and showing mothers who neglect their children how to treat them in a way which will lead their babies’ brains to develop fully.

“Early intervention”, as the policy is called, has been tried in parts of the US for more than 15 years. It consists in ensuring that mothers identified as “at risk” of neglecting their babies are given regular visits (at least once every week) by a nurse who instructs them on how to care for the newborn child.

Data from the city of Elmira in New York State, where such programmes have been in place longest, show that children whose mothers had received those visits did much better than children from a comparable background whose mothers were not part of the programme: they had, for instance, 50 per cent fewer arrests, 80 per cent fewer convictions, and a significantly lower rate of drug abuse.


trigger warning said...

In 1975, Burton White, Harvard developmental psychologist (at the time), published The First Three Years of Life. Classic. Everything since is just commentary.

Interestingly, White advised against day care:

“Buck the trend. Stay home,”
---B White

whitney said...

Jordan Peterson says that if a child isn't well socialized to interact in a pleasant way with peers and adults by the time they're four years old they never will be.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Note the fact that an infant needs constant attention, constant interaction and a mother who is fully responsive to her child. Do you think that even the best day care can suffice?

I notice the brains are for 3 year olds. Constant attention for 3 years is certainly a lot of attention. And that sounds like a good reason for family planning, to keep kids at least 3 years apart. Perhaps I would have turned out better to not have a adoptive brother 8 months older than me with fetal alcohol syndrome? My mom said I was a very quiet baby that didn't cry or fuss, while my brother needed constant attention, although perhaps I was just an ordinary baby who didn't have an alcoholic mother.

So if we're agreed having a mother at home for at least 3 years, and that having access to good family planning tools including birth control is a good idea, and we're agreed it is senseless to expect an employer to pay for 3 years or even 3 weeks of parental leave, and we also know that the best age for women to have babies are in their 20s, perhaps we should have "guaranteed income" from a government program like SS for 3 years after birth for mothers between the ages of 20-29.

But I suppose that might look like a Scandinavian socialism, which looks like communism for Americans who can't even guarantee they can afford health care, so maybe we should just keep with a high infant mortality rate in the first world, and say we're okay with being below average.

... On IMRs, I see we're 5th from the bottom, ahead of Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, and Slovakia. (I see the lowest rates are Luxembourg, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Slovenia, largely socialistic countries)

Okay, back to cutting taxes on the wealthy. We've got deficits to to keep expanding for our children who survive to adulthood to pay down. And in a Darwinian sense, our children should be stronger because of our neglect, since the weakest will have died.

Ares Olympus said...

whitney said... Jordan Peterson says that if a child isn't well socialized to interact in a pleasant way with peers and adults by the time they're four years old they never will be.

That does sound like a depressing assertion. I'd be interested where he said anything like that. Here's the first match I found, although it might be more a father's point of view than a mother. Funny & illuminating story about Temper Tantrums - Jordan Peterson

I also remember he said "Don't let your kids do anything to make you not like them."